It is the practice of some labor unions to produce one or several publications annually to inform their members of various activities and developments related to the unions.

As with many things in this world, it costs money to produce these publications. These unions finance the publications through a number of ways. Membership fee is one example. Another is selling advertising space to non-members, especially to the business community. This, however, can be an ethically grey area.

This kind of funding can be ethically iffy if the union members comprise employees of public regulators or law enforcement agencies, like the police, the Fire Department or Customs. This particular interaction between the unionized employees and the business community through the sale of advertising space creates perverse incentive.

It is a potential channel for corruption. It has the ability to affect adversely the traditional relationship between the public and the government.

Everybody deals with some of these regulators and enforcers in one way or another. The police maintain public order. The Fire Department apart from firefighting ensures public adherence to certain codes. City Hall and other local councils enforce even more codes. Many other regulators and enforcers exist out there to match the hundreds or thousands of laws that govern too many things.

Services provided by the enforcers and the regulators are funded by public money. To put it simply, the public pays for the services and these government arms render the services to the public. This is the traditional relationship. It is simple and clean.

This traditional relationship between the two must not be influenced by any other factor, lest the regulators and the enforcers filter their customers for their own benefit.

The sale of advertising space by unions especially to business establishments twists the traditional relationship by creating another channel for the public to interact with the regulators and the enforcers. That new channel runs through the unions to form a special relationship between the space purchasers and sellers, who are part of the government or its agencies.

There are at least three ways this is detrimental to the traditional relationship.

One, the sale and purchase of advertising space can be done by the business community to return a favor previously done or will be done by certain unionized employees. This is downright corruption.

Two, the sellers, who are employees of the government bodies and agencies, will feel indebted to the purchasers. It is a profitable relationship and one always keeps profitable relationship intact.

By doing so, the purchasers will have special relationship with the seller and, implicitly, to the regulators and enforcers. Those particular employees or any member of the union may systematically handle future requests or transgressions by the sellers leniently. This runs contrary to the ideal that prescribes everybody as equal before the law.

Three, even without such favors or the feeling of indebtedness, a mere request by the unions may create consternation among the solicited. A forward-looking person, and especially businesses, upon receiving the advertising request would ask, how would this affect us? For those who conclude that a negative reply would affect the likelihood of approval to future transactions, they might feel compelled to purchase the space from the unions. This can happen even if there is no intention by the union to abuse its influence. In other words, it creates a perception of corruption even though there is no actual corruption.

The way the incentives have been perversely structured inadvertently or otherwise may make it necessary for the relevant authority to look into this particular activity of these particular unions.

Despite all that, this is not to say that there is actual corruption in the system. This may sound like a cop-out but the whole structure is an opportunity for corruption nevertheless.

Individuals are not inherently good or bad, clean or corrupt. Many times, it is the institutions that provide the incentives for corrupt practice to flourish.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on June 27 2011.

 

One Response to “[2388] Nudge, nudge, wink, wink”

  1. on 01 Jul 2011 at 21:23 Bobby

    Having my hands full now with a dispute.
    This union is more or less a defunct one, but still able to churn out poison pen letters for the sake of one member who pays for the entire union committee.
    Moral is, never met or seen a union that is good nor clean.

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