The Influence of Human Resources' Practices on Corruption Behaviour in Humanitarian aid

Hybridity in the Governance and Delivery of Public Services

ISBN: 978-1-78743-770-8, eISBN: 978-1-78743-769-2

ISSN: 2051-6630

Publication date: 3 July 2018


The aim of this research is to study the implications of the human resources management practices on corruption in humanitarian aid as the phenomenon is under-researched (Akbar & Vujic, 2014; Melo & Quinn, 2015) and considered to be a hot topic since the determinants of corruption from an individual perspective have been scarcely discussed in the non-profit sector (Epperly & Lee, 2015; Mohiuddin & Dulay, 2015).



Chabke, S. and Haddad, G. (2018), "The Influence of Human Resources' Practices on Corruption Behaviour in Humanitarian aid", Hybridity in the Governance and Delivery of Public Services (Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance, Vol. 7), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 89-122.

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Corruption has been compared to a disease (Klitgaard, 2000; Neutze & Karatnycky, 2007; Underkuffler, 2013), a virus that is contagious and corrosive (Den Nieuwenboer & Kaptein, 2008; Elliott, 1997; Hao & Johnston, 2002; Underkuffler, 2013) and a cancer in the society (González de Aragón, 2004; Wolfensohn, 1996). Argandoña (2007) describes it as a serious economic, social, political and moral blight. It has become a major issue in the international press and an overarching concern (Ashforth, Gioia, Robinson, & Trevino, 2008; Husted, 1999; Rose-Ackerman, 1999; Rose-Ackerman & Palifka, 2016; Voliotis, 2011). While everyone agrees that developing countries seem the most afflicted by the curse of corruption (Gopinath, 2008; Theobald, 1990), corruption is considered as a worldwide phenomenon affecting developed countries as well (Gopinath, 2008). Scandals have shaken governments in Europe, Asia and the Americas. No country has been left untouched by its destructive effects (Husted, 1999). The impact of corruption has been illustrated in several examples around the world, and one of the most cited is the vanishing of 1 billion USD of oil revenues from the state coffers in Angola in 2001, as reported by an internal IMF report (Pearce, 2002). This amount equals three times the amount of the humanitarian aid received by Angola in 2001 (Svensson, 2005). Although corruption has recently received increased attention from organisational and management scholars (Ashforth et al., 2008; Jimenez, Puche-Regaliza, Jiménez-Eguizabal, & Alon, 2017; Martin, Cullen, Johnson, & Parboteeah, 2007; Voliotis, 2011), it remains a relatively elusive topic, and the literature on corruption is troubled with vagueness (Pinto, Leana, & Pil, 2008). According to Ashforth et al. (2008) academia has not produced research that corresponds to the real scope and depth of the phenomenon. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (2003) preferred not to define corruption since it is a variable and evolving concept that means different things to different people, which allows greater flexibility for future implementations and interpretations (Argandoña, 2007), and many authors agreed that it is a many-sided concept with different meanings that depend on the context (Akbar & Vujic 2014; Melo & Quinn, 2015). Indeed, as Rodriguez, Uhlenbruck, and Eden (2005) clearly pinpoint, the main challenges arising from describing corruption are to address the characteristics related to both its transaction and state specificity. In an attempt to bring new knowledge to the topic, this research investigates an underexplored area of study which is the impact of the human resources practices on corruption behaviour in humanitarian aid organisations.

To construct a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon, this paper adopts the grounded theory as a method. Field observation data were used as a base to build a preliminary research model and four propositions were compiled, which were further refined and expanded through respondents’ data in provenance of 30 interviews conducted in five humanitarian organisations working in Lebanon, and carefully chosen due to their relevance to the studied phenomenon. The cases reflect agencies working in partnership with a public institution; hence, the complexity of programmes’ implementation resulting from hybrid management gets multiplied.

The findings of the study shed the light on the link between weaknesses in human resources administration and individual corrupt behaviour. Such weaknesses include issues in relation to Terms of Reference (ToRs) and organisational charts, irregularities in staff selection procedures, the short-termism of contracts, poor talent management, a lack of ethics awareness and mismanaged cultural diversity. Moreover, the impact of inefficient human resources management on corruption is not direct but rather mediated by feelings of confusion, frustration and a lack of motivation.

The contributions of this research are both theoretical and practical: first, with an original and unprecedented approach, it sets the individual at the heart of the process and unveils wrong practices which negatively influence him and engage him inevitably in corrupt behaviours; and second, from a practical perspective, it suggests a preventive model to remedy the flaws in human resources management and reduce corruption so that more vulnerable people are reached and that the donated money fulfils its intended target.

The chapter is designed to include a literature review of corruption in humanitarian aid and its roots, the research methodology, the results including observations and interview data, and finally the discussion, contributions and limitations of this study.

Theoretical Overview

Corruption in Humanitarian Aid

Corruption is a hot topic in the media nowadays because of its importance and its impact on the business world. The United Nations Development Programme (2008, p. 7) defines corruption as the ‘misuse of public power, office or authority for private benefit through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, speed money or embezzlement’. Corruption is defined as well by Transparency International (2015) as ‘abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. Corruption is becoming more and more frequent, and it is one of the greatest ethical challenges of the contemporary world (Demmke & Moilanen, 2011). In 2005, 20–40% of the official development assistance from the World Bank is estimated to be stolen through high-level corruption (Julius Otusanya, 2011), and in 2013, the global cost of corruption across all industries was estimated to be more than 5% of global GDP with more than one trillion USD paid yearly in bribes (Wickenburg, 2013). All over the world, corruption is considered as an illegal practice, and at the same time, a non-ending series of global scandals is made public. Important examples around the world include Enron, Siemens, the Vatican Bank and WorldCom (Karmann, Mauer, Flatten, & Brettel, 2016). The Association of Certified Fraud examiners estimated that businesses lose annually almost 3 trillion USD because of corruption (Moore et al., 2012). Scandals in humanitarian aid include: the Arche de Zoe scandal of trafficking kids in 2007; the oil for food scandal in Iraq 2005–2006; sexual abuse scandals by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in 2007 and 2011; and USAID-supported programmes in Syria in 2016. The negative effects of corruption range from funds loss to increasing poverty, losing international trust and diversion of aid and assistance (Karmann et al., 2016). Corruption has been studied in various disciplines such as law, economics, psychology and management (Karmann et al. 2016). While many articles have been written (Demmke & Moilanen, 2011; Moore et al., 2012; Pinto et al., 2008), scarce literature has been published on corruption of humanitarian workers in the non-profit sector, what triggers it and how it could be prevented. The subject is still considered as a taboo among the humanitarian actors because it is a prejudice against the humanitarian organisation’s reputation, which may lead to difficulties in fundraising (Epperly & Lee, 2015; Mohiuddin & Dulay, 2015; Word & Carpenter, 2013). The humanitarian organisations might do anything to keep their good reputation, and since open discussions on the challenges of corruption may undermine the aid agencies’ reputation and thus reduce funding, the organisations rarely denounce irregularities and inconsistencies in their programmes (De Sousa & Freitas, 2012). Even when donors have evidence of irregularities in their programmes, they rarely blow the whistle or impose sanctions that could interrupt future funds; thus, serious corrupt practices often go undetected and unsanctioned (Cooksey, 2003); and although they know that a large part of the fund is diverted from its original target, they continue to pour funds to a certain project, as if corruption is the price of getting things done quickly (Zabyelina & Arsovska, 2013).

Factors behind Corruption

Despite the nobility of their cause, humanitarian organisations appear to engage in corruption practices for several reasons, the organisation management can be voluntarily corrupt to escape taxation costs, to compete with others over scarce resources, to get more funds from donors or to sign deals with recipient countries' government (De Sousa & Freitas, 2012; Ferguson, 2006; Langton & West, 2016; Parris, 2013). Managers of humanitarian aid organisations may engage in corruption to keep their positions or to get more personal benefits (Gibelman & Gelman, 2004). Humanitarian aid workers can engage in corruption because of lack of training and awareness (Francis & Armstrong, 2011). In addition to all of that, the nature of the humanitarian aid work can impact corruption positively (Zabyelina & Arsovska; 2013), especially as there is no time for control and accountability mechanisms to be set in place, and that corruption is usually widespread in aid recipient countries (Francis & Armstrong, 2011; Stockton, 2005). Despite all policies, procedures and ethical standards put in place nowadays in humanitarian organisations to increase accountability, enhance transparency and prevent fraud and abuse, in addition to multiple finance, logistics, human resources and procurement procedures (not forgetting whistle-blowers policies and complaints mechanisms), corruption still exists in humanitarian aid (Bailey, 2008). There is a long-standing concern among scholars about the lack of reliable scales in research to help predict unethical behaviour (Moore et al., 2012). Despite the broad interdisciplinary research around the corruption problem, the volitional, motivational, emotional and cognitive components which impact a person’s corrupt behaviour are still not well understood (Rabl & Kühlmann, 2008). The tendency of researchers was mainly to focus on areas of service delivery, fundraising, outcomes, volunteering and other management concerns unique to the non-profit sector; hence, the need for a better understanding and management of human resources in the non-profit sector is becoming a pressing issue for non-profit managers (Word & Carpenter, 2013). This chapter, in an unprecedented way, sets the focus on human resources management practices and investigates their influence on corruption to constructively build new knowledge and bring a better understanding of the topic.

Methodology of Research

The Research Context

The Lebanese context is multicultural because of its complex demographic scene: 18 different religious communities live together in 10,452 km2. Each community has its own cultural and social habits and traditions. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in March 2005, 402,582 Palestinian refugees were registered in Lebanon. During the Iraqi war, Lebanon received a mass influx of Iraqi refugees numbering at around 100,000, and during the Syrian war, it received an influx of 1,100,000 Syrian refugees (Saleh, 2015) before the government decided to wake up from its long coma and put strict rules on its border. The Lebanese context is highly politicised, which means Lebanon has many political parties and most of them interfere in the daily life of the citizens, and have many interests in the social work, the local governance and in humanitarian interventions. Since the independence of the country, seats in the parliament and in the cabinet have been allocated by religious sect, and politicians aim to raise among their partisans the feeling that other sects and political parties are a threat. Politicians from different religious group compete and fight sometimes, but they can also conspire and plot together to share the government resources (Mardini, 2015). Corruption had been deep-rooted and systemic in the Lebanese society for decades, but during the civil war (1975–1990), the corruption problem has been compounded with chaos and disrespect for the law. The post-war deal in Lebanon, where the different political parties fighting in the Lebanese territories consented to stop the war and to give up military power and restructure governmental institutions, did not involve strong institutional control mechanism. Thus, the exceptional spread of corruption throughout the institutions of the state was a very natural consequence (Farida & Ahmadi-Esfahani, 2008). Guerrilla leaders and warlords were offered positions as public officials, and they naturally abused public resources to keep peace (Mardini, 2015). Until today, there has been a lack of clear and defined mandates and regulatory mechanisms in institutions. There is no external oversight and no clear separation between public and private interests. This administrative ambiguity leads to endless opportunities of public resources diversion to the pockets of politicians and high Lebanese officials (Leenders, 2012). Public institutions became tools of nepotism; corruption was not limited to the ministers and directors of government institutions, but spread within the entire governing body (Farida & Ahmadi-Esfahani, 2008; Höckel, 2011).

Grounded Theory

To help in constructing a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon, this study adopts the grounded theory as a method. Field observation data is used as a base to build a preliminary research model and four propositions which were further refined and expanded through respondents’ data in provenance of 30 interviews conducted in five humanitarian aid organisations working in Lebanon carefully chosen to represent the studied phenomenon.


This section involves research observations of incidents and facts which particularly link corruption to inefficient human resources management practices. Observations can focus on what impacts upon behaviour and how people react in certain situations; they can be used to dig beyond opinions and focus on actual behaviour; they involve participating in a situation and recording what is being observed and they offer the researcher the chance to obtain unique insights (Iacono, Brown, & Holtham, 2009). Harris (2001) acknowledges the role of the researcher in the research process by introducing the self in the process and argues that the self might legitimately be used as a source of knowledge. From an insider-observer perspective, the data was being collected during the normal course of work. Several factors influencing corruption could be identified; they are primarily issues related to the recruitment process and procedures, and to employee retention.

Issues Related to the Recruitment Process

The main weaknesses in the recruitment process are the lack of transparency and the poor structuring of the organisational chart and the job descriptions; this was perceived to increase staff frustration, decrease their loyalty towards the organisation and make them engage in corrupt behaviour, such as sabotaging the organisation programmes, robbing the office or diverting aid funds. Another weakness is identified in relation to staff selection procedures, mainly the recruitment of junior and inadequate staff, to the interviewing process, the lack of validation of applicants’ legal documentation, and the lack of induction training to help people dealing with cultural diversity. Bad human resource management practices were perceived to negatively affect the implementation of projects and contribute to the diversion of humanitarian aid funds whether intentionally or unintentionally. Many irregularities in the recruitment process were observed which could be summarised in the following two sub-sections: the first one relates to the organisational chart and to job descriptions while the second deals with staff selection procedures.

Organisational Chart and Job Descriptions

The absence of organisational charts and clear job descriptions often led to confusion among the staff working for the organisation and consequently affected projects’ management and control. The newly recruited people were mostly confused and frustrated, their productivity minimised and their salaries, which are usually taken from projects’ funds, became lost money. Apart from the financial issue, both the old and the new staff used to suffer from the lack of transparency in the organisational chart and responsibilities, a factor which affected their loyalty to the organisation and led them to wrong doing such as robbing money or diverting funds.

Staff Selection Procedures

Nepotism in the selection system, weak interviewing processes, lack of valid documentation, the recruitment of junior and inadequate staff and the mismanagement of cultural diversity were all observed as gaps in staff selection procedures. This relates to the vision of corruption by Francis and Armstrong (2011) who consider it as being social rather than financial. Furthermore, agencies rely mostly on locals in aid items distribution because of staff shortage, which leads aid to be diverted for personal use or sold in the market, with a non-transparent selection of beneficiaries (Baitenmann, 1990). The wrong selection of candidates has led, in some cases, to their placement in the wrong positions; as a result, this has led to the abuse and violation of trust by certain individuals occupying certain positions entrusted to them. The irregularities observed in staff selection procedures are mainly related to personal agendas: selecting people who pretend to be someone else; nepotism; keeping other candidates in the dark; and not taking the probation period seriously. As for the candidates’ interviewing process, in some cases, only one interview is conducted in the absence of serious interview panel. Besides, no standard interview guide is applied in the interviewing process. The recruitment of junior or inadequate staff is another very common feature with humanitarian aid projects and organisations. The recruitment of junior staff in key positions has high risks on resources’ allocation, on projects’ implementation and on the organisation’s reputation. It can lead to a loss of time and money due to a lack of performance and, most importantly, a lack of control because of little experience.

Procedures Related to Employee Integration and Retention

Poor career management, loose environments and the shortage of adequate training highlight the lack of sound human resource procedures leading to good employee retention system. This observed gap in human resources management was perceived to influence corruption linked to high staff turnover because temporary situations make people concerned with making as much profit possible from the situation as quickly as possible (Zabyelina & Arsovska, 2013). It makes them engage in illegal behaviour such as the misuse of organisational benefits.

Poor Career Management

Poor career management and staff follow-up was found to increase the frustration and confusion levels among humanitarian aid workers and make them engage in activities that they might not embrace, should they have had loyalty to their organisation. Employees experiencing mental health problems with no follow-up might jeopardise the organisation’s efficiency and harm the smooth management of projects. Poor career management often led to high staff turnover. Because of short-term contracts, and work instability, in addition to a volatile situation caused by tensions in the countries where humanitarian agencies operate, there is a high turnover in humanitarian aid staff. Continuous changes in key staff negatively affected projects, which caused a loss of time and resources, and control over their implementation. Many irregularities went unnoticed because the supervising staff members were new and therefore failed to understand projects’ components. This high staff turnover put the projects on hold several times, and in some cases, projects of one year or more had to be implemented in only a few months because of the lack of flexibility of donors who, in some cases, refused to extend the project duration. Obeying bluntly the donors and trying to cover human resources mistakes led organisations to engage in corruption by implementing non-applicable projects or writing fake reports including results that were never achieved.

Inappropriate Training and Lack of Corruption Awareness

In many aid agencies two main issues pertaining to training were identified: either employees are burdened with very expensive and irrelevant trainings that they could not use within the scope of their work, or no training is delivered at all. Training seemed to be essential especially when dealing with cultural diversity and the perception of corruption. Humanitarian aid staff, having a culture that is different from the recipient country’s culture, can be influenced by local mores that consider what others call corruption as something very acceptable (Francis & Armstrong, 2011) and therefore fail to control the corrupt behaviour of locals. Thus, corruption can prosper since the rule of law is not rooted in the culture, and is therefore accepted and institutionalised (Heilman & Ndumbaro, 2002; Zabyelina & Arsovska, 2013).


This part presents a second and concurrent wave of data collection based on the interviewing of respondents working within five humanitarian aid organisations, carefully chosen to represent the relevance of the studied phenomenon. The purpose of interviewing is to resolve any ambiguity related to the researcher’s bias or misinterpretation of events, in addition to bringing new insights and more richness to the topic until saturation is reached.

Unit of Analysis

Defining interviewees’ selection clearly before choosing cases is necessary to avoid messy and empirical shallow research (Gobo, 2004). In humanitarian aid, the work takes place through a complicated mosaic of relationships between different parties including: donors, bilateral and multilateral; United Nations Agencies; International Organisations and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that can be International (INGOs) or local, in addition to beneficiaries receiving the aid (Ewins, Harvey, Savage, & Jacobs, 2006). Therefore, for the purpose of this study, informal discussions took place with three types of respondents: donors that are giving funds to humanitarian aid programmes (donor governments or agencies); implementing agencies (United Nations agencies, International or national NGOs) that are working in Lebanon to implement humanitarian aid projects; and beneficiaries of the humanitarian aid projects (mainly governmental institutions). Nevertheless, the unit of analysis of this study remains the implementing agencies as this research aims at studying human resources management practices therein.

Description of the Chosen Cases

This research adopts theoretical sampling as it is one of the grounded theory method features (Amsteus, 2014). In theoretical sampling, participants are selected according to the descriptive needs of the emerging concepts and theory. These needs dictate the sampling strategies and goals (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser, 1998). In the context of this research, five cases of NGOs were identified where corruption practices were unveiled and in some cases extensively discussed in the media. The chosen cases are partly related to the observations’ context in the purpose of comparing findings to seek commonalities and differences which might inform the emerging theories; another part of the cases is nevertheless new and unrelated to existing data hoping to bring new insights thus further expanding or refuting the theoretical findings. After selecting the cases as well as the potential informants, the first round of interviews was done with two to three informants from each case, and each time new codes were emerging; another round was done, until no new codes emerged, and information started to be redundant, confirming that saturation was reached.

This study, for the sake of incorporating the latest developments and trends, is concerned with agencies that are working amidst the current humanitarian crisis that has hit Lebanon: the Syria-Lebanon crisis which started in 2011 and is still ongoing. The selected group comprises United Nations agencies, international organisations and NGOs. Most of the agencies, and specifically in cases 3, 4 and 5, are working in partnership with a governmental institution, which leads to hybrid management. Indeed, in the very specific Lebanese context, and amidst the current refugees’ crisis, many agencies are working with or through the Lebanese government institutions to provide services to refugees on the Lebanese territory. Many of the agencies are providing technical assistance to the government, which means deployment of staff inside the public institutions to help in programmes implementation.

Below is a brief description of each case:

  • Case 1: an international NGO that opened in Lebanon in 2006 and closed in 2009 because of shortage of funds due to the lack of trust from donors after many scandals that happened during those past three years. The NGO opened again in 2011, when the Syria-Lebanon crisis (refugees flooding to Lebanon) started.

  • Case 2: aid funds of an international organisation were diverted for private benefits between 2005 and 2007. This international organisation is still working in Lebanon in the current crisis.

  • Case 3: a humanitarian agency spent millions of dollars to develop a programme to help the refugees integrate formal education while the programme was already designed. A very small number of refugees could benefit from the programme.

  • Case 4: while the government is putting a framework for non-formal education after having asked all partners to stop non-formal schooling and to focus on bringing all child refugees to formal public schools, some NGOs are still doing non-formal education and taking kids out of schools to have enough beneficiaries. Some agencies are working on formal education as well, which contradicts what they are doing in non-formal contexts; they are taking money from the UN, the main partner of the government and they are misreporting their projects saying that the activities are recreational ones.

  • Case 5: an international NGO submitted a project proposal to an international donor aimed at building the capacity of an emergency committee in the government, which would have the role of applying strategies for emergency situations. The committee was formed, and employees were deployed at the government for six months. They received very high salaries; however, they did not perform any activity.

Data Collection and Analysis

Concurrent data collection and analysis is one of the key principles of grounded theory; it involves a strong interaction between data collection and data analysis that occurs concurrently in an iterative manner (Cutcliffe, 2000; Idrees, Vasconcelos, & Cox, 2011). This practice provided initial categories of analysis from observations data in addition to instructions to the other data collection process which is interviewing. It helped determining what additional information is needed and where, and with whom it should be collected. Consequently, decisions were taken based on the empirical data (Pickard, 2007) which reflects in the context of this study the chosen cases and interviewees. Simultaneous data collection and analysis allowed the authors to compare the events and, consequently, decide which case should come next or whom to interview next or if saturation was reached (Idrees et al., 2011).

Thirty people working in UN agencies, international agencies and NGOs were selected as per the selected group of interviewees’ descriptions. The humanitarian workers were contacted, and appointments were set based on their availability. Interviews in some cases took longer than expected especially as most of the time the interviews took place in respondents’ work context, thus inhibiting them from staying fully attentive to the interview process, and in many instances the interview was interrupted by colleagues, subordinates, phone calls or urgent unexpected visits.

Some questions were designed to be redundant on purpose to check respondents' reliability. Most of the times, answers such as ‘as I replied to the previous question’ were received; therefore, the researchers decided to keep both questions to check the validity of the information obtained.

It is to be noted as well that many words appeared in interviews which are particularly related to humanitarian aid jargon; for instance, ‘terms of reference’ or ToRs are used to designate job description, and international and national are used to designate expatriate and local.

In some cases, more than one respondent used similar examples, because they either work in the same agency or they were involved in the same case. This was considered beneficial for the research as it improves the reliability of the data collected. The analysis process evolved consistently with the grounded theory approach, back and forth between theory and data (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), gradually unfolding emergent patterns and generating new codes. The emerging inferential codes were produced through establishing an implication from recurrent patterns.

Results and Discussion

In the absence of rich literature tackling corruption in humanitarian aid, this study, through the grounded theory approach, has been able to produce tremendous information and robust results around the topic. In relation to the human resources administration theme, seven categories were identified. Under the first category, Issues in Relation to the ToRs, three main codes emerged: absence of ToRs, duplication of responsibilities and unrealistic ToRs. The second category grouped the issues related to the organisational chart in the different agencies: absence of organisational chart, constant changes in positions and unclear reporting lines. The third category is the biggest one and it groups all the issues related to staff selection procedures and the irregularities in the process: the first code under this category is nepotism; the second code is the absence of advertisement of positions; the third is the inadequate selection of profiles; the fourth code is the absence of reference checks; and the last code is the absence of binding rules to staff leaving shortly after their recruitment. The fourth category is short-termism of contracts. Surprisingly enough, some codes under this category are mainly positive as it seems that short-term contracts might be beneficial as it appears for international staff who do not want to bind themselves in long-term contracts outside their country. The fifth category talks about poor talent management. The codes under this category include the failure of retaining talented staff, the absence or weakness of staff evaluation systems and deficiency in supervisory role. The sixth category includes the issues in relation to ethics training and includes codes such as absence of ethics training, which results in a very low level of awareness among staff members, in addition to low enforcement of taught ethics principles, adding to that managerial politics overlooking the ethics principles taught. The seventh and last category is the weak follow-up on cultural diversity inside the agencies and two codes emerged under this category: inequalities between national and international staff and religious and cultural differences not dealt with.

Category One: Issues in Relation to the Terms of Reference

In humanitarian organisations, ToRs is the description of the employee’s keys tasks and deliverables throughout his/her contractual period within the aid organisation.

Absence of ToRs/Unclear ToRs

While very few respondents stated that there were no ToRs at all when they were recruited in their agency, many others said that the problem is related to the clarity of the tasks detailed in their ToRs and not in the existence or absence of ToRs themselves. ToRs are described by respondents as being generic and mostly ambiguous; in some cases employees have no real job to perform and in others, managers are at the same level or have the same title as their subordinates. This ambiguity leads to confusion among employees and huge frustration. Confusion, a factor mentioned by most respondents in different interviews and several answers, can result from role ambiguity and from many other factors such as constant changes in organisational charts and unclear reporting lines. It is considered as a work stressor that can engender negative work behaviour (McCleese & Eby, 2006; Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970). It leads to emotional exhaustion, and increases employees’ turnover (Karatepe, 2015). Job frustration was also strongly discussed by respondents as being a negative emotion resulting from negative events in the workplace (Avey, Wu, & Holley, 2015; Storms & Spector, 1987). Job frustration can be the result of many things, including bullying, unfair treatment, irregularities in recruitment, job insecurity, nepotism and abusive supervision, and usually leads to deviant workplace behaviour (Marks, 2012) such as theft, shirking, sabotage and lateness (Avey et al., 2015) which further might lead to substance abuse (Finch, Catalano, Novaco, & Vega, 2003). Many researchers linked job frustration to decreased compliance with rules and regulations (Avey et al., 2015; Rupp & Spencer, 2006) in addition to decrease in performance and efficiency, and higher turnover intentions (Otto, Hoffmann-Biencourt, & Mohr, 2011; Van den Broeck et al., 2014). According to many scholars, frustration promotes deviance and citizenship withdrawal (Avey et al., 2015). Frustrated employees might want to restore equity through deviance (Avey et al., 2015; Tepper, 2007) and can retaliate against the organisation (Avey et al., 2015). The findings of this research about job frustration are in line with the available literature and even complement it with new insights in the particular context of humanitarian aid when interpersonal relations hold a prime consideration. As another consequence to this ambiguity, employees are reported to behave carelessly. Carelessness was found to be an antecedent to corrupt behaviour; this is particularly true as it is aligned with previous research stipulating that when recruitment procedures are not strict enough and there is no person-job match, employees can lose interest and adopt a careless behaviour, which reduces their performance and efficiency levels and implies loss of money for the organisation (Dasgupta, Suar, & Singh, 2014). Additionally, and as a result of ambiguous ToRs, employees seem not to take accountability of the activities under any project. Accountability is when employees are held responsible for certain tasks, activities or projects. This lack of accountability results from several changes in the positions, role ambiguity, unclear reporting lines and many other irregularities in human resource management, and it can cause delays in the projects and loss of money. Projects are delayed because of changes in humanitarian staff, and money is often spent and lost on inefficient employees instead of being spent on projects. As a result, aid doesn’t reach the target beneficiaries as intended. Some interviewees mentioned that employees participated in drafting their own ToRs after the recruitment, others mentioned having very generic ToRs, copied and pasted from the Internet, which means that the staff's real tasks do not correspond to the position they applied for which might lead to people sitting doing nothing instead of working:

At many instances, people were recruited in my office without any clear job ToRs, or with ToRs copied and pasted from the Internet (…) they usually either leave right away or they stay doing nothing and getting their salary, while working on personal projects. (Respondent 7)

Duplication in Responsibilities

Many interviewees mentioned that there is an issue in the duplication of tasks between colleagues in the same agencies or across agencies working in the same sector. This generates confusion among the employees and in many instances harmful competition as every staff member wants to prove himself at the expense of others. Competition was discussed as being related to job insecurity, or the bad management of leaders; they spent their time focusing on their interpersonal issues and how to be better than the others instead of focusing on work. Projects get delayed, the organisation’s reputation endangered and the funds diverted from target beneficiaries. Some cases witnessed loss of accountability in the project, whereas no one feels responsible for the humanitarian activities, since tasks are the same for many colleagues, and carelessness about the cause. Frustration was mentioned many times by the interviewees as result of this duplication, and this resulted in delays in implementation, which meant extra money was spent on the project without increasing the number of beneficiaries, and money was lost on human resources instead of being spent in the right place. This ruins the organisation's image among the stakeholders who do not trust the organisation anymore because of its inability to perform efficiently. Some respondents talked about duplication in tasks and how it leads to competition and lack of accountability. Another respondent talked about how he had common tasks with many of his colleagues as it appeared that these tasks were never achieved as part of his colleagues’ ToRs, so his section had put all of the unachieved activities together and created a position just with the objective of moving forward with these stalled activities. This person was recruited without removing the tasks in question from his colleagues’ ToRs:

The different tasks in my job description were divided among three other officers in the office (…) Few months later no one cared about implementing the tasks in question, and the money given to these activities expired. (Respondent 3)

Other respondents discussed how the duplication of tasks affects the motivation of employees and how some employees might take all the credit for their good deeds while others might take all the blame for unachieved tasks.

Unrealistic ToRs

For some respondents, ToRs were considered as being unrealistic and thus unachievable. Efficient planning of staff recruitment seems absent in many organisations which create unrealistic positions, and management is reluctant to adapt them to the reality of the field after they see that the staff are unable to perform. This results first in frustration among employees who are unable to perform and among others who see their colleagues getting paid and doing nothing, and second in the lack of motivation, which leads in many cases to underachievement. Lack of motivation was mentioned as a driver for corrupt behaviour; this is quite understandable as motivation has been previously described as an energiser to the individual behaviour which works on directing and sustaining it (Steers & Porter, 1991) and determines its intensity and duration (Pinder Craig, 2014). Motivation was also related to job performance: when an employee is demotivated, he doesn’t perform well (Hauser, 2014); the lack of recognition of one’s efforts leads to a decrease in performance. The literature on motivation helps, in turn explaining the findings of this research which links the lack of motivation to individualistic behaviour and corruption, as demotivated employees start pursuing individual goals and do not work as a team to reach the organisation’s objectives (Mohiuddin & Dulay, 2015). Concerning underachievement, employees can underachieve for many reasons: if they face role ambiguity; if they were not given what was promised to them; if they are always put under stress by their direct supervisor; if the top management does not abide by ethics principles taught to employees; and if their profile does not fit the position they took. Underachieving or underperforming employees in humanitarian programmes cause huge delays to projects and loss of money. Once again, funds and donations happen to be spent on human resources instead of beneficiaries.

Unrealistic might mean an illogical way of combining specific tasks under one ToR, such as in the following case where the respondent had strategic tasks to perform according to which he was supposed to lead the team in the implementation of the project, but at the same time he had clerical and administrative tasks, wherein he was supposed to book the flight tickets of the office staff:

I had in my ToRs very high strategic tasks to achieve and very low administrative tasks. This led to a high frustration, especially that the staff never considered me as their supervisor. (Respondent 1)

Unrealistic might also mean unachievable, where the objectives set are very high and impossible to reach, and staff are evaluated against those objectives instead of having them reviewed and adapted to the context. Another respondent mentioned how there was no previous planning and how the ToRs were not adapted to reality but changed many times after that to fit the context.

Category Two: Issues in Relation to the Organisational Chart

Absence of an Organisational Chart

According to some respondents, the absence of organisational charts in their organisation confuses the staff who aren’t able to see the whole picture of the project being implemented; some employees do not feel accountable or responsible to perform well, and this underachievement causes delays in implementation and loss of money. One of the respondents explained how the absence of organisational charts results in ambiguity in staff members’ roles vis-à-vis each other and a lack of accountability for and ownership of the project or tasks.

No organisational chart ever existed in this organisation and it is very confusing who reports to whom. This leads to a lack of accountability and no one knows who is responsible in case something happens. There is no ownership or accountability. (Respondent 1)

The absence of organisational charts might lead to ambiguity in who reports to whom, as sometimes things might not be clear until they are put in one chart that clarifies any ambiguity or illogical reporting line. Another respondent answered that in his agency no organisational chart ever existed and that people were recruited on an ad hoc basis to work on specific projects. This is how most of the agencies start at the beginning especially when they are new in the country or in the early stages of the emergency response where the team is still very small; however, the problems start to appear later when the people are replaced several times and when the team gets bigger and bigger.

Constant Changes (Ad Hoc Positions)

Other respondents stated that an organisational chart exists, but it is overlooked because of the many changes that occurred all the time mainly because of the creation of ad hoc positions. This constant change and the ad hoc positions generate frustration and confusion as employees don’t know who is doing what anymore and are tired of seeing changes all the time. They lose ownership or accountability of the activities, which results in lack of control and underachievement, and this is translated into loss of money as aid is not reaching the target beneficiaries. One of the respondents explained how, due to constant changes, the organisational chart, usually a very important HR and planning tool, is overlooked at his agency which leads to confusion among the staff and to irregular and unethical behaviour. In the following respondent’s answer, the issue highlighted is the constant changes in the organisational chart and in one particular staff member’s position, title and tasks, and how it negatively affected the behaviour of the staff member in question:

If the organisational chart changes twice a month, people prefer not to look at it anymore. Drastically, staff members ended up not knowing who does what and who is responsible of what tasks. (Respondent 5)

Another respondent shed light on the fact that no prior structure exists and that ad hoc changes take place all the time. This refers to bad planning inside the organisation. Another interview showed how the constant changes can lead to a lack of accountability and a lack of control.

Poorly Applied or Not Well-defined Reporting Lines

According to some respondents, the main issue in the organisational structure is mainly in the reporting lines that are unclear and poorly applied. Employees get confused and do not know who is reporting to whom and who is responsible for what. Their performance is affected, they become uncooperative with their colleagues and supervisors and they lose accountability of the tasks that they are supposed to perform. Lack of cooperation occurs when employees do not cooperate together or with their supervisors because they are not satisfied with their job or because they are feeling discriminated against or treated unfairly. When employees do not cooperate, delays take place, and money is lost on paying salaries instead of implementing humanitarian projects and helping target beneficiaries. Controlling the project becomes a difficult task, huge delays in implementation occur and the organisation’s reputation is negatively affected. Lack of control was mentioned in several answers as being the inability of the organisation’s top management to control the work or the projects’ implementation because of high staff turnover, the short stay of employees and the multiple changes, among many other issues described in the findings. This lack of control is directly linked to corruption, because the management is not able to quickly spot deviant or unethical behaviour, especially when it takes place in periods of change.

People end up doing what they want. You see all the time employees going back and forth to senior managers instead of reporting to their direct supervisors just because their relationship with him/her is not good enough. (Respondent 12)

Category Three: Irregularities in Staff Selection Procedures


Most of the respondents mentioned in one way or another, directly or indirectly, nepotism in recruitment procedures. The nepotistic relation does not have to be within the organisation but it can also be between the recruited staff and a government official with whom the organisation is collaborating. Nepotism in the system directly engenders frustration among employees who feel that the process is not fair, and their performance is negatively affected as they start acting carelessly. Tension among staff members increases just as their loyalty to clans, and this results in hiding things from each other and from the management to protect themselves or the members of the same clan, or in hiding information that can be useful for the performance of other staff members from outside the same clan. Loyalty of employees towards the organisation is usually negatively affected by negative workplace events such as bullying, discrimination and increased stress (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2006; Vickers, 2014). It has a major effect on employees’ productivity, as loyal employees seem to perform better (Hough, Green, & Plumlee, 2015). Loyalty to clans replaces the loyalty to the organisation as it appears to be a major factor of corruption when cultural issues and differences are not dealt with and when employees are treated unfairly by discrimination; instead of being loyal to the organisation and its objectives some employees have loyalty to a specific clan within the organisation. Clans protect their own members by hiding their shortcomings and they compete with other clans. The project’s funds can be stolen, diverted and the projects delayed because of this. In cases where the management is involved in nepotistic recruitment, it makes subordinates angry and frustrated and they might attempt to take their revenge from the organisation in any way possible:

The country director recruited five people in the main office among his friends (…) This nepotism in the system made other team members in the main office or in the field be upset because they felt the people recruited by the director were always privileged. (Respondent 6)

No Advertisement of Positions

Many interviewees stated that one of the most common forms of irregularities found in the recruitment process is the non-advertisement of positions, although it is a human resources requirement in almost all the organisations. When positions are not advertised, the selection of candidates will be limited, and this might lead to having unsuitable profiles. Previously recruited staff are frustrated and might refuse to cooperate with the new recruits that are irregularly contracted, and the newly recruited staff are, in many instances, underachieving because they do not have the required experience. Donors’ money is therefore spent on inadequate resources instead of achieving the targets. Here is an answer that illustrates this idea. Many respondents confirmed that in several cases positions were not transparently advertised. In other cases, CVs are pre-selected from an existing pool and although interviews are conducted, the staff selection is made a priori.

I never saw any position advertised at my organisation, interviews are conducted on pre-selected CVs although most of the time all the people know who is going to be selected a priori. (Respondent 7)

Inadequate Selection of Profiles to Properly Fit Job Requirements

It is very common as per the respondents’ answers to find people in key positions with a profile that does not suit the job requirements at all, and this results many times in underachievement and lack of cooperation from other staff members which leads to loss of money from the main target: the beneficiaries. Below are some answers that clearly explain how inadequate selection negatively affects aid delivery.

According to some respondents, some people who do not have the relevant profile, although very devoted to the organisation, do more harm than good:

A finance officer was recruited in my organisation although he had a literature background and never worked in finance in his whole life. (…) Due to his lack of experience in the field of finance, huge misallocations were done and one of the projects was lost. (Respondent 4)

Some employees had a very different background from the profile of the job they were recruited to do. Many others mentioned the very negative impact of wrong selection on the humanitarian work.

No Reference Checks, Resulting in Recruitment of Unqualified Individuals

Many respondents stated that no reference check was done for the candidates and considered this as a main irregularity in recruitment procedures. In some cases, staff who had negative criminal records or mental illnesses were recruited, and in other cases staff who did not perform well were given a second chance and contracted in other missions. This is directly linked with underachievement and results in endangering the organisation’s reputation and delaying the projects. Some staff are recruited many times or renewed within the same organisation, although they performed very badly in previous missions.

Our Chief of section left because we had a major issue, she was there for one year; she left the office and she went to another one. How did she get another job if she was evaluated by her supervisor and we know for a fact because there is an HR file against her from many staff members? (Respondent 30)

Absence of Binding Rules in Relation to Staff Leaving Shortly after Recruitment

Many respondents talked about the fact that many staff left after days, weeks or a few months from their recruitment date and highlighted the nonexistence of binding rules to avoid sudden resignations. The absence of binding rules increases the lack of commitment among employees and the lack of control over the projects because continuous changes and an increase in vacant positions make irregularities unseen and therefore unpunished. Lack of commitment is another factor that came up in many interviews and is described as an emotional reaction when the employee’s expectations are not fulfilled (Cantisano, Domínguez, & Depolo, 2008), which leads to deviant workplace behaviour – the intentional aspiration to cause harm to the workplace (Hussain, 2014; Tomprou & Nikolaou, 2011). When an employee has a feeling of injustice because he/she did not get what was promised, or what the employee was expected, the employee will have a decreased level of commitment and will not feel any loyalty to the organisation. Thus the employee will not fulfil his/her obligations and will show a negative attitude by decreasing his/her job performance and showing counter-workplace behaviour or organisational deviance that can include theft, sabotage, decrease in performance, lateness and delays (Ambrose, Seabright, & Schminke, 2002; Appelbaum, Iaconi, & Matousek, 2007; Dalal, 2005; Fu, 2014; Hough et al., 2015; Kelloway, Francis, Prosser, & Cameron, 2010; Lambert, 2003; Litzky, Eddleston, & Kidder, 2006; Robinson & Morrison, 1995; Snellman, 2015; Thau, Bennett, Mitchell, & Marrs, 2009). All of these factors have been addressed by this research as being corrupt behaviours resulting from the mismanagement of human resources. Money is lost on salaries especially when the recruitment of international staff is very costly as it includes travel and housing arrangements in addition to other benefits such as insurance and children's schooling. Delays in projects and loss of funds are witnessed and the organisation’s reputation is endangered.

The absence of binding rules seems to increase the rotation of staff and their turnover inside the organisation, which can affect knowledge management and delay projects:

Staff leave shortly after their recruitment as there is nothing in their contracts that obliges them for a minimal stay. (…) when staff keep on rotating all the time, the know-how is lost, and projects cost more money, and take more time to be achieved. (Respondent 13)

Category Four: Short-termism of Contracts

Job Insecurity and Lack of Stability

Some respondents considered that short-term contracts create a feeling of insecurity and lack of stability among employees. This can engender frustration, lack of motivation and commitment, and decrease in performance. Employees don’t care anymore about the humanitarian projects as they consider that the organisation does not care about them; they engage in sabotage or acts of revenge against the organisation or can try to enrich themselves as much as they can as their stay with the organisation is temporary. Here are a few examples of the respondents’ answers. According to some respondents, being on short-term contracts causes so much stress that employees might take a parallel job that is considered as conflict of interest with their current position. Employees on short-term contracts might become frustrated if they see that others are on long term and might behave unethically to take their revenge from the agency:

Because of the shortage in funding, employees are only renewed upon availability of funds and the contract length depends on the fund lifetime. This can lead to frustration especially that other employees who are less efficient are on fixed-term or permanent contracts. Employees might engage in corrupt activities because they do not care anymore about the mission of the organisation and they do not believe in its vision. (Respondent 3)

Category Five: Poor Talent Management/High Turnover

Failing to Retain Talented Staff

High staff turnover or low employee retention was mentioned by almost all respondents who considered that their organisations are failing to retain talents. This, coupled with confusion due to the many changes that occur daily, leads to frustration, lack of motivation and loyalty as the employees are tired from facing daily changes in the structure and their performance is negatively affected because frustrated and demotivated employees usually underachieve. This leads to delays in the projects, loss of money on inefficient and underachieving staff and acts of sabotage against the organisation. Sometimes, talented people seem to be on board, but the agency just doesn’t make good use of their talents; they end up being underachievers, and money is considered lost on their salaries. The failure to retain talent results in a huge turnover that can cause lots of harm to an organisation from distorting its image in front of partners and donors, to loss of funds and a lack of control because of the employees’ rotation:

In one of the situations our high staff turnover made us lose a project because in a one-month period, five different staff went to meet the donor to discuss the project proposal. (Respondent 2)

Corrupt activities can easily result from the high turnover because in the period of staff changing there is usually a lack of control especially when the new staff are not yet very familiar with the procedures and need some time before starting to have a clear overview of what is happening. Talented people seem to be often frustrated because of the way they are treated, so when they stay inside the organisation, they lobby against the management and do more harm than good. If the organisation loses talented people, especially when they have been employed for a long time, it can lose a part of its history and know-how.

Absence of Performance Evaluation System

Some respondents considered that there is a poor performance evaluation system that prevents talents from being retained. Employees are frustrated and they end up leaving the organisation, creating a void that results in loss of control. Projects are delayed, and money is therefore lost on recruiting and training employees instead of being spent in the right places. It is to be noted at this stage that efficient performance management makes employees’ contributions inside the organisation explicit and highlights any shortcomings or violation of ethical behaviour. A weak performance evaluation system can have a very negative effect on the employees’ morale and can incite them to behave unethically (Singh & Twalo, 2014, 2015). Below is a sample of the respondents’ answers. When asked about their performance evaluation systems, many respondents talked about the unfairness of the system, and many respondents stated that there are no incentives based on performance evaluation:

There are no incentives based on performance. There is no performance evaluation. There is a big turnover in the organisation, same as other humanitarian agencies. (Respondent 7)

Deficiency in Supervisory Role

Others considered that the lack of talent management is due to a deficiency in the supervisory role. Some supervisors do not have time or the will to identify good talents. They might be overbooked or might think that people with good talents are a threat to them. Highly talented people end up frustrated and tensions increase among staff; these issues are usually found to cause loss of money on staff salaries and delays in projects’ implementation. Some respondents talked about supervisors not being able to manage talented people because they feel inferior to them.

Good talents are seen as a threat by our management who is not actually qualified to run the project. (Respondent 2)

Others talked about how less talented or hard-working employees stay longer at the organisation because their weak supervisor is using them to build a network against the other more efficient staff that might constitute a threat to them.

Category Six: Issues in Relation to Training in Ethics

Absence of Training

Many respondents had never heard of available ethics training in their agencies, and most of them think that this results in low awareness in ethics. This can be very dangerous because most of the projects are implemented in highly corrupt contexts and if staff members do not know what is ethical and what is not, they might engage in corruption without knowing it. The lack of ethics awareness is then considered by respondents as a major driver of corruption as it is well known that ethics management with efficient ethical mechanisms can help individuals in making better decisions and prevents illegal behaviour and irregularities (Amundsen & Pinto De Andrade, 2009; Maesschalck, 2004). The findings of this research confirm the idea that training and development in ethics is an instrument of reducing corruption (Snellman, 2015; Whitton, 2001). It is indeed very important that organisations have a set of rules and regulations that clarify to employees the meaning of unethical conduct and that those perpetrating any unethical actions will be detected and sanctioned (Dunkelberg & Jessup, 2001). Many authors mentioned the negative effect that the lack of formal rules and regulations and the absence of a code of ethics have as they can increase unethical behaviour at the organisation (Aguilera & Vadera, 2008; Karmann et al., 2016).

In cases of absence of ethics training or awareness in an organisation, many staff members are reported to misbehave without knowing what they are doing is wrong.

No one ever talked about ethics training in our organisation, although I think it is a must, especially to raise awareness among employees who in some cases do not know that what they are doing is bad. (Respondent 2)

Training Available but No System to Enforce and Monitor Its Application

Some respondents mentioned that the ethics training existed, but it is either not mandatory or its application is not enforced. This has the same result as absence of training as the employees who do not take it will have low awareness in ethics which can lead them to engage in irregular activities without knowing it, while others might have awareness in ethics and still engage in corruption anyway as there is no sanction system that prohibits them from behaving in a corrupt manner. There is indeed a need to enforce ethics principles, especially by the top management, with clear rules, regulations and sanctions. This converges with existing research which stipulates that behind ethical failure in an organisation is the failure of the top management to promote ethical principles and enforcement (Brien, 1998). Individuals are proven to respond better to behaviours than to verbal rules and regulations (Braje & Galetic, 2014; Meyers, 2004), and many authors agree on the importance of leaders as a driving force towards an ethical culture inside a specific organisation (Braje & Galetic, 2014; Lestrange & Tolstikov-Mast, 2013). In some cases, although the training is available, the organisation does not seem to check if the staff members did it or not. In other cases, the training exists but does not seem mandatory. If management does not follow up the enforcement of the training, the problem might remain the same.

Ethics training is a must, and it is being implemented at the organisation. It has a big impact on raising the awareness of staff members towards illegal behaviour. However, corruption still exists. Maybe because the training is not enforced, there is no follow-up and no sanction system for irregular behaviours. (Respondent 22)

Management Politics Overlooking Ethics Principles Taught

Some respondents considered that the issue is not in having training or in applying its principles; they considered the main issue being that the management overlooks the taught principles and behaves in an irregular manner, so the staff do not care anymore about applying the principles they learned in the ethics training and therefore engage in corruption. Indeed, in the literature, many authors agree that commitment from leadership is an integral part of anti-corruption activities and promotion of ethical culture (Braje & Galetic, 2014). In cases where managers do not abide by the ethical principles taught, the staff do not seem to apply them, and the ethics training might turn out to be useless:

Another thing is more important than the training: having the management abide by ethical principles. When the management of our organisation has many flaws, how would you expect the staff to follow ethical principles they learn from a training? (Respondent 12)

Category Seven: Cultural Diversity Not Dealt With and Inequalities – Nationals versus Internationals

Inequalities between National and International Staff

Many respondents mentioned mismanagement of cultural differences within their organisations and many mentioned the inequalities between nationals and internationals. Some positions were filled by expensive international staff while nationals had the capacity to fill them instead. Moreover, internationals are highly paid and have many more benefits than nationals. In other cases, international staff members were selected from countries that are not always tolerated in the local context for political reasons. This leads to frustration, lack of motivation and cooperation among employees and a huge tension that results in delaying projects implementation and diversion of aid from target beneficiaries as money is lost on paying underachieving staff. The following respondent’s answer illustrates this cultural issue and its negative impact on aid. Interviewees mentioned the existence of a gap between international and national staff especially when it comes to salaries and incentives. This might lead in many instances to lack of cooperation and coordination among staff:

There is a big gap between the expatriate community and the locals. Expatriates are highly paid while locals are not. This mismanagement adds to the tension in the office and causes lack of coordination, and in some cases duplication or delays. In other cases, targets are not met because some staff refuse to cooperate. (Respondent 21)

In some cases, international staff, not well briefed about the country’s culture, do not respect traditions, and cause trouble with authorities, which makes the national staff uncooperative with them.

Cultural and Religious Differences

Other respondents talked about the mismanagement of cultural and religious diversity inside the organisation where clans are created and employees are being loyal to the clans they belong to instead of being loyal to the organisation and its goals. The tensions and the feeling of discrimination among employees increase. Discrimination is seen by respondents as a driver of corruption. It occurs when managers apply different rules to different people. The biased approach of managers finds its roots in the literature as it has been found to lead to absenteeism and low performance in addition to other deviant behaviour such as retaliation and sabotage (Dasgupta et al., 2014). In addition to the feeling of discrimination, employees perform less well because they are busy with inter-staff problems; their lack of motivation and lack of cooperation cause big delays in implementation and control becomes difficult as staff members try their best to hide irregular behaviour to protect their clans which makes aid diverted from the target beneficiaries. People seem to be bullied according to their nationality, which might lead them take their revenge by adhering to a specific clan and protecting the clan’s members by covering their mistakes:

People bully each other because of their nationalities and background and no one really stops them. (Respondent 1)

Propositions and Research Model

The propositions that were validated and refined after the interviewing process are as follows:


Absence of ToRs, unclear or unrealistic ToRs, and duplication in responsibilities lead to underachievement, confusion, frustration, lack of motivation, competition among employees and carelessness, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


The absence of organisational charts, constant changes of positions and poorly defined/applied reporting lines lead to underachievement, confusion, frustration, lack of accountability and control, lack of cooperation and carelessness, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


Irregularities in staff selection procedures through no advertisement of positions, inadequate selection of profiles, absence of reference checks and absence of binding rules to staff prohibiting leaving shortly after recruitment lead to underachievement, frustration, lack of cooperation, lack of commitment, loyalty to clans and carelessness, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


Short-termism of contracts when forced and the feeling of job insecurity lead in some cases to underachievement, frustration, lack of commitment, lack of motivation and loyalty to clans, which in turn positively influences corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


Poor talent management and high staff turnover: from failure to retain talented staff; to absence of performance evaluation systems; to deficiency in supervisory role leads to underachievement, frustration, confusion, lack of control, lack of motivation, competition and loyalty to clans, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


The absence of ethics training, the lack of enforcement of ethics principles and management politics overlooking ethics lead to frustration, lack of control and lack of ethics awareness, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies.


Cultural diversity, either translated in inequalities between international and national staff or in cultural and religious differences, not dealt with, lead to underachievement, frustration, lack of cooperation, lack of motivation, competition, loyalty to clans and feelings of discrimination, which in turn positively influence corrupt behaviour in humanitarian aid agencies (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. 
The Research Model.

Fig. 1.

The Research Model.


The theoretical contributions from this research could be considered three-fold: first, understanding the roots of corruption and its underlying factors in the specific context of humanitarian aid which is hardly tackled currently by prior research despite its sensitivity and the span of corruption cases; second, bringing a new dimension to the corruption literature which deals with human resources management practices; and last, linking practices with emotions, thus explaining how flaws generate resentment and negative feelings which appear to be major triggers of corrupt behaviours.

From a managerial perspective, this study presents a preventive roadmap that helps reducing corruption in humanitarian aid organisations working in Lebanon. To prevent irregularities related to ToRs, it would be recommended to have the new staff ToRs ready before the recruitment process starts. ToRs should also be shared with the whole team for their feedback and comments; this will avoid duplication of responsibilities and ambiguities in tasks. As for the organisational chart, it should always be updated, printed and visible to all staff with clear reporting lines based on staff ToRs. In case of fast recruitment needed in emergencies, lighter procedures with minimum standards of control should be in place and followed thoroughly. Dismissal of employees should be done in very professional way, as they should never leave with a grudge against the organisation or any of its members. All employees, who accept to work short term, should sign a waiver where they acknowledge their short-term employment and the fact that the organisation is not obliged to renew their contract or give them a long-term one. Strict rules against favouritism should be put in place, and managers should be trained about fair employees’ treatment. Furthermore, professional employees’ evaluation tools should be put in place and used to enable the organisation identifying good talents and rewarding them. Ethics training should be necessary for all employees, and no employees should be allowed to start work if they doesn’t get their ethics training certificate. Additionally, irregular/corrupt behaviour should be explained to employees in the form of training and a booklet about transparency rules, and a form should be signed after taking the training or reading the booklet. Inception trainings should be done for all the international staff, focusing on the culture of the host country.

Putting frameworks of action is easier than implementing them, especially in the complicated context of humanitarian aid. Many hurdles could obstruct the enforcement of the framework, as a first obstacle to implementing an ethical framework is the very nature of humanitarian aid: the emergency. There is as well the short-term funding which does not allow humanitarian organisations enough time to invest in people, in human resources management, in training and in ethics enforcement. In addition to that there is usually, especially in conflicts, a wide array of political parties that are competing for power and that want a piece of the humanitarian action.

Finally, the humanitarian organisations seem to be thinking and working in a vicious circle: they need to show quick implementation through quick impact projects to have more visibility, and quick implementation might lead to duplication as all the agencies will be ‘reaching the low hanging apples’ without effective project planning and coordination, and human resources administration.

This research suffers from a few limitations usually pertaining to qualitative studies such as retrospection and the inability to generalise the results. Additionally, the sensitivity of the topic and staff frustration might have an exaggerated impact on results; however, this was carefully dealt with throughout the interviewing process.

The present work lends itself to several possible extensions: first, undergoing the same study across different countries with different corruption indexes, norms and cultures; second, studying corruption in power, among politicians, and measuring its impact on humanitarian work; and last, understanding how the tolerance level of corruption of humanitarian workers dictate their behaviours in emergency contexts.


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