Listen to people you do not agree


Listen to people you do not agree

“Is the work you do not a drop in the ocean?”, a friend asked me after my training integrity and good governance to Palestine civil servants in Ramallah. This question always keeps me busy. Technical assistance from The Netherlands and Europe costs a lot of money. They often are short-term interventions. The circumstances in the Netherlands and a country like Palestine are miles apart. What could Palestinians learn from me?

Still a lot. During the evaluations participants consider integrity a new but important theme. Honesty, openness, justice and courage are moral values that guide their actions. The dilemmas too seem the same as in The Netherlands and other countries. Do you call a colleague to account or not? Do you ask your manager to act in case of a wrong decision? Do you execute an order when it’s contrary to your values? Do you report a suspicious transaction or not?

That is the nice thing of good governance and integrity. In whichever country I work, we speak the same language of values and dilemmas. Integrity shows itself in our actions. Can we account ourselves and explain our decisions? Of course, the circumstances in Palestine and many other countries are difficult. The resistance of those in power is oppressing. Still, like a participant said, we will wait till the ‘old men’ are tired. Then we get our chance. So it was in The Netherlands when we started in the 1990s with integrity policy. We were facing ridicule and misunderstanding about the soft approach with values and norms. Now integrity is part of the agenda. People who abuse the law are brought to justice.


The ocean is a nice metaphor. In recent years corruption and bad governance are hot issues. This is very threatening for those in power who are accustomed to do their business in the dark. The Panama-papers are an example. The Brazilian government had to resign because of the Petrobas scandal and popular protests. The self-appointed new government immediately struggles with new corruption cases and resignations by ministers. In Spain the ruling party is increasingly cornered by judicial decisions in a number of corruption cases, which is bad news for the June elections. The list is enormous. Escaping becomes more and more difficult. So who are drowning in the ocean?

During the anti-corruption summit in London, IMF director Lagarde declared: “what I want is that transparency and integrity will be a systematic part of the IMF supervision to countries”. Very well said. However, if there are no well-educated civil servants working in those countries and trying to implement integrity, the IMF is powerless.

Increasing the number of islands of integrity is part of my job. Now Palestine belongs to this as well, which is satisfactory. And that was what I told my friend.

Henk Bruning

The circle has broken

Responsible administration

The circle has broken

“Integrity means wholeness”, said Aristotle. If the circle of common moral values and norms breaks down, we risk irresponsibility and decline of good governance. The ‘Panama Papers’ are a clear example of a broken circle. Citizens vote for a government based on a plan for the future promised by political parties. To realize the plan, citizens pay tax. The government answers to the citizens about the implementation and results of these plans. The ‘Panama Papers’ show a growing group of citizens and business who eschew their civil responsibility. Probably they still meet legal criteria and loopholes, but giving a clear explanation fails badly. What is the difference between dodging and evasion? The consequence is that an ever-smaller group of citizens will pay the expenses of society. The pillar ‘solidarity’ of democracy gets in the doldrums.

A current example of a broken circle is offered by the city of Amsterdam. Airbnb and the city agreed the about the possibility for citizens to rent their houses to tourists to compensate the lack of hotel rooms. With the agreement the city breaks with two aspects of the circle of good governance. First the municipality is not able to control Airbnb. The company trades in The Netherlands, but legally Airbnb is not established here. Therefore there is no obligation to hand over information to the Tax Department. So Airbnb can make profit, but doesn’t need to justify the financial results. It’s clear that the company doesn’t pay enough taxes. Secondly the renting of apartments is a big success. However, again the municipality does not know the exact revenues of the owners and therefore how much tax money it had missed. The media talks about 26 million euros a year.

The parallel between the ‘Panama Papers’ and Airbnb is that legal rules not always fit with the dynamics of society. Companies and citizens can enlarge their interest without the control mechanism of accounting themselves. This is not always bad and probably legally. But it results in an unconformable feeling in society. If the law permits keeping information without transparency, it hurts and affects the democratic agreement to keep our society together in good shape. People literally become pessimistic and cynical.

“Integrity”, as said by Aristotle, “not only contributes to ones’ happiness but precisely to the happiness of the whole society.” That goes wrong now!

Recovery of the cycle

The freedom of doing is one of the achievements of democracy. Now these abuses are no longer seizable and sometimes scandalous, reassessment of integrity is needed. How can we maintain the support to common values and norms and protect the general interest against these free riders? The (international) community now tolerates holes in legislation and therefore weakens the (national) defence of our democracy and solidarity. A strong strategy is needed to make the whole circle again.

Henk Bruning

Live Together


Live Together

The refugee problem imposes a heavy burden on society, laden with social tensions and dilemmas. Can we use the principles of good governance and integrity to take the right decisions?

Acting morally right is taking a decision which is in accordance to our values like humanity, security, hospitality, sharing honestly, solidarity and freedom. The moral validity of a decision depends on the consequences for ourselves and for others and takes into account the rights, interests and wishes of all those involved. Take for example a municipality that promises its citizens a house. The arrival of a group of refugees from Syria leads to a dilemma: do we need to present our citizens a longer waiting time, yes or no?

The taking in of refugees is accompanied by emotions. Sometimes there is fear of the unknown or serious concern about the future of our civilisation. Often there is also involvement with the fate of strangers who, after a bloody war, now fearful and desperate, long for security and recognition of their personality. How are we going deal with the accumulation of emotions, feelings and wishes?

Investigation and dialogue

First we take each other serious and together look for the arguments behind the emotions. Secondly we investigate which arguments advocate pro or contra a decision. Values bear our decisions. The naming of principles and values offers space for a dialogue. We recognize and acknowledge each other’s principles. The common investigation of a dilemma provides peace and reflection. It also shows the possible damage that occurs by our decision for those who are involved. Knowing the damage gives the possibility to compensate. Using the example of housing allocation: you can explain to citizens and refugees why one of them has to wait. To make the waiting time acceptable the municipality can offer certainty about the new date of getting the house and, eventually, make a promise to contribute to the costs of furniture. If the refugee has to wait, the municipality can arrange an alternative or present an education programme.

There are more dilemmas. Like the establishment of refugee’s centres; whether or not to send people back; making use of the knowledge and skills of citizens from Syria and from other countries. Let’s be honest: refugees also provide opportunities. A nice example are the refugees who work as volunteers in care homes.

In Europe we are proud of our values. Tolerance, justice, security, generosity, openness and health brought good governance. Many people from other countries share our values, although those are yet not rooted in their political, cultural, religious culture and rule of law. The forced encounter between them and us provides the opportunity to exchange ideas and convictions strengthening international justice and making openness and tolerance normal. Good governance and integrity are tough issues. But every step we take decreases the risk for new wars and the inhuman whims of dictators. The dilemma whether or not to apprehend the current leaders in the Middle East is inextricably linked with our daily dilemmas and those of the refugees in our countries.

Firmness and interpretability

Dilemmas request our firmness and that of our governments to take decisions and explain them openly and transparently. As said, damage often is inevitable and painful. Offering compensation can decrease those disadvantages and provide consensus. Serious dilemmas deserve sobriety and passion. Taking everyone’s arguments seriously strengthens our self-esteem and makes integrity applicable in our daily practice.

Henk Bruning

Two speeds


Two speeds

Four weeks before the new elections Spanish President Rajoy opened finally, after 4 years govern, an anticorruption office. Part of the Ministry of Justice, the office investigates the existence of black money and who is involved. Motive is that nobody shall enjoy stolen money. The detected money is used to social purposes. The opposition reacted strongly: Too late and non-committed! Understandable, because the President said in 2013 he would crack down corrupted party members. However, the political leader never judged in public any member for affecting the image of the public sector ignoring citizens. He leaves that to the prosecutor and the judge.

Despite, better late then never. A calculation of the social costs of corruption shows an amount of billions of euros. An office that forces criminals to pay back their revenues strengthens society and contributes to a professional image of public administration. An office has a long breath; a politician comes and goes and therefore is less relevant.


How else can run with people who are involved by heart with good governance and integrity. A participant of the Integrity Course 2014 in The Hague sent me next illustration.

‘We as participants work slowly, but steadily, marching towards big decision-makers, luckily infected by integrity. The last section of the book ‘To Be Honest’ that addresses directly to the institutions, universities, amongst others, inspired me. Since I am a lecturer at The Law Faculty of a private University in Serbia, I proposed to its Dean setting up a course, a kind of permanent workshop, called Academy of Integrity (or something more creative). The main topic and the central theme of activity would be integrity. Thus students, as young, free and brave layer of society, could be sensitized to this crucial social value. Free in expressing what kind of society they would like to live in, addressing directly to the public institutions (through organised visits, dialogues, publishing open letters etc.) and public service representatives. Just like in Maria’s letter published in a Spanish magazine on what kind of society she would like to live in. This programme could include various courses, creating a website as a forum and media through which this workshop can be active, multiple competitions and quizzes that can, in a fun way, inspire the youth to express themselves regarding this topic. The Dean supported me, agreeing to build up a team that will work on this issue.

It seems that we all after attending the integrity course are the ambassadors of integrity ourselves!’

Integrity is a tough march through the institutions to sensitive bureaucracy for good governance. However integrity is also a lively way of organization and investigation. It is about the future and the way we make agreements and keep other motivated.

Two different worlds but both are needed and complement each other.

Henk Bruning

Dip in Integrity


Dip in integrity

I’m an optimistic person. The recent news about the fraud committed by the German company Volkswagen confuses me. A successful company cheats on society and her clients and brings Germany into discredit. And why? Because the Board of Directors wanted to sell more cars than Toyota. How childish is that? In the meantime the website shows that Volkswagen stands for seven moral company values: Customer focus; Top performance; Creating value; the Ability to renew; Respect; Responsibility; Sustainability. The swindle was only intended to increase the ego of top managers. The values seem to be nonsense.

Of course the Supervisory Board starts an investigation, the CEO will be fired and there will be a fine. The operating reserve of € 28 billon seems to not be sufficient to pay those fines. The measures don’t guarantee that corruption and scams are removed from the world. The longing of top management to be the ‘greatest’ in the world may also be heard in other boardrooms. It’s the culture of our captains of industry.

Volkswagen is consistent with the row of well performing companies like Ahold, ABN-AMRO, Siemens and Imtech who take irresponsible risks and burden society with serious collateral damage. Despite the nice websites, corporate values, motivated employees and a well-organised compliance department that monitors whether the company acts in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

People who are committing fraud or permit others to swindle go unpunished. The company arranges the issue with the prosecutor and writes down the fine on companies’ costs. Let bygones be bygones and let’s continue. Top managers and the board get away scot-free nor need to fear jail sentences.

Individual prosecution

People have personal responsibility for their deeds. Precisely when this leads to extensive social damage. The prosecutor has to bring the responsible CEOs and top managers to trial. In the USA new policy has been published in the so-called Yates Memo. Arrangements between prosecutor and company no longer apply as substitution for cases against individuals. Imprisonment and fines for responsible individuals will be possible.

The Netherlands, UK and EU could translate the scare about Volkswagen in new legislation. Serious sentencing will have a preventive outcome if people who are guilty are really being send to jail. It seems the only option to hold top managers and the supervisory boards in check.

Optimism is sustainable when justice is applied.

Henk Bruning

Dip in Integriteit


Dip in integriteit

Ik ben een optimistisch persoon. Het recente nieuws over de fraude door het Duitse bedrijf Volkswagen brengt mij van mijn stuk. Een prachtig winstgevend bedrijf belazert de samenleving en haar klanten en brengt zelfs een land als Duitsland in diskrediet. En waarom? Omdat de Raad van Bestuur meer auto’s wilde verkopen dan concurrent Toyota. Zo kinderachtig is het. Terwijl, zo leert de website, Volkswagen zeven (morele) bedrijfswaarden hanteert: aandacht voor de klant; topprestaties; het creëren van waarde; vermogen om te vernieuwen; respect; verantwoordelijkheid; duurzaamheid. De oplichting had slechts tot doel om het eigen ego van de topmanagers te vergroten. De rest blijkt flauwekul.

 Uiteraard start de Raad van Commissarissen een onderzoek, krijgt de topman ontslag en hangt een boete in de lucht. De bedrijfsreserve van € 28 miljard lijkt niet voldoende om die boetes te gaan betalen. Het zijn echter geen garanties dat corruptie en oplichting uit de wereld zijn. De zucht van het topmanagement om de ‘grootste’ ter wereld te zijn, is ook hoorbaar in andere directiekamers. Het is dé cultuur van de captains of industry,

Volkswagen sluit aan bij het rijtje van goed presterende bedrijven zoals Ahold, ABN-AMRO, Siemens en Imtech die risico’s nemen en de samenleving opzadelen met ernstige gevolgen. Ondanks mooie websites, corporate values, gemotiveerde medewerkers en een mooi opgetuigde compliance afdeling die moet toezien dat het bedrijf handelt in overeenstemming met de geldende wet- en regelgeving.

Mensen die frauderen of toestaan dat anderen de boel oplichten gaan vrijuit. Het bedrijf schikt de kwestie met het OM en boekt de boete af op de bedrijfskosten. Zand erover en doorgaan. Bestuurders of topmanagers ontspringen de dans noch lopen het risico op jaren gevangenisstraf. 

Individuele rechtsvervolging

Mensen zijn persoonlijk verantwoordelijk voor hun handelen. Juist als dat tot grote maatschappelijke schade leidt. Het OM moet verantwoordelijke CEO’s en topmanagers voor de rechter dagen. In VS is nieuw beleid in de zgn. Yates Memo gepresenteerd. Schikkingen tussen justitie en een bedrijf gelden niet meer als vervanging voor zaken tegen individuen. Gevangenisstraf en boetes voor verantwoordelijke individuen zijn mogelijk.

Nederland en de EU zullen de schrik over Volkswagen kunnen vertalen in nieuwe wetgeving. Een serieuze strafmaat werkt preventief als schuldigen daadwerkelijk gevangenisstraf krijgen. Het lijkt de enige mogelijkheid om topmanagers en hun raden van commissarissen in het gareel te houden.

Optimisme is vol te houden als gerechtigheid wordt toegepast.

Henk Bruning

Fraud destroys fantastic company

Buen gobierno

Fraud destroys fantastic company

Royal Imtech from Gouda, The Netherlands, is an international company for technical services. The turnover in 2014 was 3,9 billion euros. Worldwide Imtech has 22.000 employees of whom 7200 work in The Netherlands. The company, which was 150 years old in 2010, was an exemplary business on the stock exchange until 2014.

In 2014 it became apparent that the top management of this immense company had lost the oversight on the financing of thousands of projects. In Poland, Germany and in Switzerland there was considerable fraud: forgery, bribery of officials and fraud with counterfeit bills. The CFO and CEO did not have oversight over cash flows and twisted the facts about a huge investment. The company was punished by the stock exchange with share prices falling to €0,28 (It once was €15,00).

In 2015 it’s over. A Dutch judge has declared the company bankrupt. The curator is now looking for buyers for business units and, at least has been able to maintain 10.000 jobs.

For the employees the loss has been a drama. As one employee says: ‘It’s very sad that a big company like Imtech, where I happened to have had a very fun and meaningful job, has gone down in such a short time’.

Integrity means security in advance

Does a firm policy of integrity and SCR prevent such aberrations?

It probably would have, if the risks of fraud and deceit were traced in advance. Now the company bought a lot of foreign companies in a short time without paying sufficient attention to the existing cultures and everyday practices. In Poland there was a conflict of interest. In Switzerland the company pampered civil servants. In Germany there was forgery. Now the facts are well known, there is nothing left to do than to go to court and do forensic investigation. This is too late and too slow without any financial perspective.

The energy and carelessness of the former Executive Board and Supervisory Board has resulted in uncertainty and unemployment for a high number of professional employees, just as previously was the case with fast growers such as AHOLD and ABN-AMRO. This has resulted in high social costs because of the delay in going-on projects and reputational damage; and, last but not least, the costs for unemployment fees are for the tax payer.

Integrity means carefulness and taking the interests of all stakeholders into account, also in the long term. That doesn’t mean quickly doing business, but keeping the risks under control. This competence should be decisive for members of the Supervisory Board and within the Executive Board a critical voice is essential. To put it in different words: each Board needs an integrity expert with eloquence!

Henk Bruning



Are you also a daredevil?


Are you also a daredevil?

In the fight against corruption important cases compete for media attention. FIFA leads in this competition. The high level arrests in China, the deep-rooted habit of corruption in Greece, Spain, Macedonia and many other countries and the self-enrichment in our country are breaking news. They often paralyze ordinary people in the desire for honesty and altruism. If we do not consider ourselves naïf then at least we feel lonely and meaningless.

A meeting this week with 7 youngsters from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Jordan and Indonesia gives courage. Starting their career in public administration they are curious how colleagues in The Netherlands fight corruption and improve integrity. From their side they talk about their small successes in combatting corruption. Like the use of IT and online registration systems to order information and make procedures transparent; reinforcement of scrutiny to make sure that subsidies for employment do reach citizens; the organizing of 25 workshop to educate civil servants about bribery; the creation of an independent ethical commission. These minor and major dilemmas make clear that their daily working conditions and private life are difficult:

  • Should I tell my manager that a colleague and friend calls in sick but is taking a holiday?
  • Should I add the personal opinion of my manager to a law text?
  • Should I help a friend with an official procedure?
  • Should I accept a financial gift of a member of parliament in change for information from the audit report?
  • Should I change the official procedure in favour of my family?
  • Should I Report the role my colleague played during a procurement procedure?
  • Should I report that male colleagues don’t take me serious as their female manager?

Continue to meet

Nevertheless they travel abroad to speak with us about their dilemmas and professional values: responsibility, equality, honesty, approachability, doing what’s morally right and willingness to account for personal behaviour and attitude. They’re not the only ones! Therefore it’s good, aside from discussing big news events, to keep meeting these individual colleagues with their courage and principles, and celebrate them.

Together we reduce amorality and lawlessness. ‘We’ll never walk alone’

To all of you I wish a pleasant summer and I’m looking forward to see you again.

Henk Bruning



Can we offer perspective to despair?


Can we offer perspective to despair?

The flow of refugees to the promised country ‘Europe’ from war-torn and impoverished countries leads to extreme emotions: giving shelter or detainment. Both points of view are understandable because of moral values like solidarity, generosity and security. The photos of drowned people are really sad, but those who survived can be seen, as the Dutch Minister of International Trade said, as people with ‘ambition and courage’. Those are exactly the much-needed skills to build a country. However, most refugees end up being illegal and see their dreams evaporate. Their human resources remain untapped. Europe is going to invest large amounts of money to keep people out of Europe and to fight crime of human trafficking. From the principle of the Rule of Law this is quite understandable: crime does not pay.

Make a virtue of necessity

Let’s make a virtue of necessity and put development aid with career planning, training and coaching into practice. Many countries are working on a new Constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens and the constitutional state. The application of this remains a bottleneck. The most vulnerable issue is bridging the cultural, religious and political contradictions and the handling of an often violate unprocessed past. At the same time recognizable common issues also ask for a solution. How can we combat unemployment, organize health care and education, reinforce the rule of law, built a good governance and fight corruption? Another type of questions is: How do you organize a constructive debate between stakeholders between trade unions and employer’ association, between farmer corporations and governments, between religious leaders and youth?

Refugees share similar experiences regarding their journey and near death experiences. We can see them as local experts who are ready for internships and can learn from our knowledge, experiences and ways of maintaining our democracy, rule of law and integrity. In return they can provide European countries with new impulses for international cooperation and programs to combat terrorism and to support initiatives for economic development and reinforcement of democracy. Refugees can bring the knowledge and experience how Europe emerged from the Second World War and developed into an ideal back to their homeland. Because, let’s face it, next to courage and ambition the majority of all refugees do have a heart that wants the best for their country. They would prefer to go back to their families and friends to build a decent future together.

For Europe this can also be an excellent opportunity to put development and international security in this worldwide shared human perspective.

Henk Bruning




Elections: the echo of your vote

Responsible administration

Elections: the echo of your vote

Elections will be held on May 24 in Spain, June 7 in Turkey and June 23 in Albania. Citizens will have a direct influence in getting good governance. Strangely enough people often vote on parties they loudly criticize in daily discussions. Although citizens in Andalucía complained about corruption as the second most important social issue, in March they voted on the ruling socialistic party. Party leaders are involved in a huge corruption scandal, which a judge has been investigating for more than 4 years. In The Netherlands a politician accused of corruption received many votes as well. Why?

One obvious reason could be that people know the politician personally and/or think they benefit from him directly or indirectly. However, most people recognise the principles and the history of one party and remain loyal to it. New parties that want to combat corruption, have to prove themselves first, for example by demanding an integrity strategy before supporting a new government.

Democracy is more than the voice of the people. Important are independent judges who bring those to trial who are corrupt or abuse power. National and international organizations that promote public integrity and transparency also help. They can do this by capturing traditional parties bit by bit from people who misuse democracy for their own gain and providing education and training for new parties, so that they are able to govern. Setting an agenda takes time in a democracy. Putting integrity on the agenda is a slow process that requires time, perseverance and conspicuous incidents.

Vote for integrity

An inspiring and important incident took place recently in Guatemala, a country in which violence and corruption plague the people. An investigation by the UN Commission against Impunity CCIG found out that officers of the Custom Staff and Tax Department systematically falsified documents. This caused the public treasury to miss out on 60% of the import duties. It seems that the vice-president used the money to buy expensive yachts and apartments in New York and Italy. Thanks to the Commission and public protests by many citizens the Supreme Court investigated the case. Consequence: the vice-president had to resign.

During elections citizens demonstrate their wish for improvement and stability. That message is very valuable for elected politicians. Bases on the trust of the voters they are able to remove the rotten apples in their party directly after elections. Also, they can pick up the many initiatives and ideas coming from society to improve good governance. However, this wish of the citizens also gives weight and legitimacy to civil servants who already work on integrity and good governance programmes.

Henk Bruning