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