16 January 2014

The Guardian reports that the UK Home Office is rewarding staff who manage asylum cases so that tribunal orders for deportation are upheld. What the agency sees as recognising positive performance and ensuring service targets are met, human rights groups view as a corrupting influence because the civil servants’ sense of fairness is being undermined. The concern is that recognition of this type is a clear incentive to bad practice.

The circumstances relate to the review stage of failed asylum applications. The process at that point has determined that there is no right to entry, that the claimant should be deported. The role of staff is to defend that decision at the tribunal review. Critics consider a 70% success rate is a consequence of incentives and brings the fairness of the system into question.

In terms of public management there is no conflict in an incentive provided to staff by their employing agency. An employee may accept any benefit which the agency proffers. The circumstances are wholly different from something of value being provided by another party. An employing agency may choose to reward those performing agency functions through salary or other means.

A number of jurisdictions regard high levels of remuneration and substantial incentive payments as a key to preventing corruption, eg Singapore, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi. In New Zealand the State Services Commission guidance on chief executive remuneration recognises payments as a performance incentive and the most recent update maintains this incentive element at 15% of chief executives’ base salary.

Guidance on strengthening corporate integrity published in September 2013 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime which manages the UN Convention Against Corruption, recognises the value of good practice incentives. The benefit can be in encouraging a commitment to compliance programmes. Such incentives have a particular role in circumstances where there is a low risk of misconduct being detected. The Home Office may well have assessed that a sympathy for claimants was a more likely response from those who process reviews and that incentives in the form of vouchers for up to £50 would be effective. They would recognise positive performance  including exceeding their casework targets, and minimize any loss of role focus.

Interestingly those who believe there is no harm in accepting benefits – like low value entertainment from a contract provider– on the basis that they would not be corrupted for the price of a dinner or similar benefit, may well be among those who regard the Home Office bonus scheme as corrupting, and that the officials involved would be incentivized to disregard fair procedures.