FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18: Every Bermudian knows — or ought to — a little bit about institutional racism.

The concept is that racism isn’t just racists being, well, racist.

More often than not, racism is perpetuated by systems and institutions going about their normal business, happily unaware of the racial consequences of what they do.

By these means, racism is perpetuated by organizations that are not deliberately racist at all — and often by people who themselves are victims of racism or sincere campaigners against it.

This week’s outrage over Cabinet self-dealing with planning permission made me think that perhaps, there is something going on here, similar to institutional racism, that might lead to institutional corruption.

In this particular case, a construction company owned by Health Minister Zane DeSilva had been forcefully and clearly turned down in its application to build three large warehouses and a new access road on the environmentally sensitive Devonshire Marsh.

Mr DeSilva’s Island Construction Company appealed; Planning officials urged that the appeal be rejected.

This wasn’t just for environmental reasons — though these were clearly pointed out.

A Planning official also said Island Construction had failed to respond to objectors, and its application contained “insufficient information” and Island Construction also failed to respond to objectors, provided “insufficient information” and there were “significant discrepancies”.

And then the appeal was granted in principle by Mr DeSilva’s Cabinet colleague Walter Roban, who was in his final day as Planning Minister.

So what’s going on here? As far as I know, both Mr. Roban and Mr Desilva are good people who are working very hard in the interests of the community.

Perhaps they are working under a system that makes it way too easy for Government Ministers to act in ways that are… well, let’s call them “inappropriate”.

Maybe the system even puts pressure on them to act in this way.

That would hardly be surprising, given the rather large number of cases that have come to the public’s attention in recent years where a Cabinet Minister appeared to have struggled with their conflicts of interest and lost.

Here are some examples of the sort of systematic problems that could easily lead to “institutional corruption” — and some thoughts on some actions we could take.

Problem # 1: Bermuda’s history. One-party dominance, racial segregation and discrimination, colonialism — it’s not surprising that a paternalistic culture remains strong to this day.

Leaders “know what’s best.” They are given huge latitude to do what they want, and they do.

Solution # 1: Openness, transparency, clear codes of conduct and a public refusal to repeat the sins of the past. Much of this is gradually creeping in to Bermuda Government, but we need more — more regulation and a greater willingness of citizens to get outraged more often.

And there’s absolutely no reason for a Cabinet Minister to ever be the final court of appeal.

That has led to no end of bad decisions, and appearances of corruption, in recent years.

If the national interest is so seriously damaged by decisions made at lower levels of Government, a full public parliamentary debate is warranted — not a one-man Cabinet decision behind closed doors.

Problem # 2: Unnecessary conflicts of interest. Bermuda and its politicians are used to doing Bermuda’s political work while trying to earn a good living in private business at the same time.

The costly system of full-time Cabinet ministers was meant to free us (and politicians) from that burden. But as Mr DeSilva and Island Construction have demonstrated, it hasn’t.

Solution # 2: If politicians are willing to accept full-time Cabinet minister salaries, they ought to step back from their personal business interests, be rigorous about avoiding conflict of interest issues, and be generous to the country when conflicts arise.

For example, the Health Minister should have abandoned the idea of building three warehouses on Devonshire Marsh when it became clear his Government’s Planning Department was opposed.

Even if he was convinced his business was justified, it was clearly bad for the country, bad for Devonshire Marsh, and put the Planning Minister, and Planning Department officials, in an extraordinarily awkward position.

You can’t praise leaders for their great sacrifices if, in fact, they aren’t prepared to make any.

Problem # 3: Excessive partisanship. Our political system produces winners and losers and nothing in between.

One of the many bad results of this is party unity that is excessive and dangerous to the country.

Politicians in Government almost never speak up when one of their colleagues does something bad. Which is an amazing dereliction of public duty, when you think about it: These are the people who are elected and sworn into office to look after the country, not each other.

Solution  # 3: Adjust the system to reduce bitter partisanship — as suggested in many of the reforms proposed by the One Bermuda Alliance. Don’t let Cabinet be a “closed shop”. Make sure all MPs, on all sides of the house, have meaningful roles to play in running and overseeing the country.

And citizens must do their best to make sure bitter partisanship gets punished — through public disapproval and at the polls.

I don’t mean to minimize the human involvement and personal ethical responsibility.

But I think our best chance of ending the appearance of corruption isn’t to savagely attack individuals.

They, no doubt, will argue that they were doing what they thought was in the best interests of the country and, besides, any wrongdoing wasn’t nearly as bad as the wrongs committed by other people in the past.

We will get better results if we focus on the system that allows, and sometimes even encourages, these things to happen.