Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Creeping Corruption

(I wrote this over a year ago but failed to post.  Its a bit of an obvious rant).
In Iraq, where government staff are known to "call it a day" by 1:30 pm and where a recent survey of the local municipality found that the average amount of time that people were actually working was an incredible 25 minutes a day, it should not be surprising that even at a progressive Iraqi NGO (non-governmental organization), a sort of creeping corruption can start to wiggle its way in.
Take the example of staff leaving to continue their education. The management and the staff in question seem to think it is fine to continue getting a portion of their salaries even though they are not really productive employees while pursuing their degrees. Even in the case where staff have full government support to cover their education and living expenses (because most of these staff are simply on leave from government jobs), they seem to think it is their right to continue to be paid making vague promises of continuing to work while they pursue their studies. 
And of course each new staff leaving to pursue their education can claim that they deserve the same rights as the previous staff. Recently at our organization, one of our employees made the same claim, promising to fulfill a number of jobs even while under a full course load of study at a university abroad.
I expressed my disagreement with this policy stating that if we really wanted this staff to success, we would not ask them to continue working while they were pursuing their degree program. Give them a gift of support if you want and can afford it but don't call it a salary and have expectations that they will fulfill their obligation to work.
I was overruled and as it turned out, this staff was able to do very little (though I'm sure they would protest this analysis). Ok, it doesn't work, so lets stop paying him for work he can not do. But then the accusations comes. He's a X and you've paid Y staff, so you have a double standard (Fill in X & Y with whatever you will ... Kurd/Arab,  Sunni/Shia, etc.). A board member steps forward to champion X based on this logic and now suddenly we are paying him even though we know he is doing nothing! 
Rather than of putting a stop to the policy altogether, this board member has simply allowed a form of corruption to become more deep-seated within the organization.
People should want to work for an organization like ours because we do good and worthwhile work. We shouldn't have to bribe our staff to work for or stay with us. Paying them for work that they are not doing is an insult to the rest of the staff that have to pick up the slack for them. It stops us from being able to be financially responsible and straightforward in our dealings with the rest of the staff and it is simply a form of creeping corruption.

Let's jump!

There is something that has been making me toss and turn all night long ... it is mostly an internal struggle for me but also something that I need to try and resolve for some colleagues (one Kurdish and one Dutch). 

I found out that the Kurd was angry with the Dane ... and it reminded me of the way one of my Kurdish staff got angry at me almost a year before.  And also it made me think of my occasional successes but more frequent failures as a manager of Iraqis in general.

A year ago, one of my staff got mad at me and told me I was being too "bossy".  It seemed odd to me at the time because, well, I was his boss and in Iraq hierarcy is everything.  I knew that he was resisting a request I was making of him and at the time I was trying to stress how important it was to do the specific task.  I felt afterwards that his complaint that I was being too bossy was a euphamisms for "I'm uncomfortable with what you are asking me to do and really don't want or feel able to do it."

To this date, I don't really know what was motivating him but as I watch my colleagues struggle with similar issues, I feel the need to try to understand my history with being a person who has some level of "authority" ... as a woman, as a foreigner and just as a person managing Arabs and Kurds ... or any ethnic group for that matter.

I've always had trouble being a manager in Iraq.  Particularly as an American in Iraq with the history of my country and how it has behaved in Iraq, I felt uncomfortable in that role, but I've also faced alot of opposition that I don't know can be chalked up to some weird view of me as an "invader."  We are people afterall and these people have gotten to know me as a person.  We work together and are trying to accomplish a mission.  So why all the trouble? Is it because I'm a woman? Because I'm a foreigner? Because I'm just crap at being a manager?   Other managers here (Iraqis) have only had to say "jump!" and people responded with "how high?" I thought I was trying to be more collaborative by saying "Let's jump" but people responded with stony looks.  

But is the problem that my own bosses have never actually given me true authority to be a manager?  One of them had insulted me in front of staff and another constantly let staff go around me, endlessly questioned my decisions or often overturned them. If staff see that happen, why should they respect or listen to me?

Yesterday we had a party for a staff that is leaving the organization and he made a comment that "Anna drives everyone crazy in the office" (he was just trying to make a funny comment)... when I asked another colleague what he meant by this, I was told that this was because I'm so direct and straight with people. I know that as a manager I obsess and worry and second guess and that probably annoys people (and I certainly don't enjoy it). I've been a boss in the U.S. once and it was really quite easy, but being a boss in Iraq has been a constant struggle and I always have this feeling that people are just giving me 'lip service', telling me what I want to hear and not really listening to me as a manager. 

This is all complicated by the fact that a) I'm not always sure that I'm being understood (language issues) and b) people are clearly not always being straight and honest with me ... People here will sometimes say that they will do something even when they don't want to, feel uncomfortable doing it and/or have no intention of doing it.  Call it my female intuition or whatever, but I've seen the truth of this again and again .... I may not know that someone is telling me a lie but I feel it and it drives me bonkers!

I guess that as my time with this organization draws to a conclusion (I'll be leaving Iraq this summer), I'm trying to figure out if my time as a manager in Iraq was largely a failure to understand how to be in a position of authority here or if I was really being set up for failure (or both!) ... but I also want to try and resolve potential problems for the staff who stay behind because I see some of them going down the same path I took.