Willful blindness

“Sir, if we pay him a bribe of Rs. 50,000, he’ll issue the clearance certificate immediately,” the Project Manager said.

“You know we don’t do such things in this company. No bribe. Anything else is OK. But see to it the clearance certificate is with us as soon as possible, definitely within a week,” the CEO replied.

As the PM walked away, the CEO said, “Please keep me updated by email.”

An hour later, the CEO received a telephone call from the regular raw material supplier, who said, “Sir, I was asked to inflate this month’s bill by Rs. 50,000. I wanted to check with you.”

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you. There was some disturbance in the line. Anyway, I’m busy with some very important work. Whatever the matter, please discuss it with the PM,” the CEO replied.

The next afternoon, the CEO received an email from the PM: “Clearance certificate received.”

He immediately emailed a reply: “Good! Please confirm you did not pay any bribe.”

The PM replied: “No bribe paid, Sir.” He smiled. “Ignorance is bliss,” he thought to himself.

The CEO read the PM’s email and smiled. “Ignorance indeed is bliss,” he thought to himself.


This is a fictional story. But, it frequently happens in reality in many organisations of various kinds (business organisations, religious organisations, governments, etc.) in India and the rest of the world. On record, the head of the organization opposes corruption. However, (s)he knows about most of the acts of corruption indulged in by members of the organization. To protect herself/himself from any consequences in case these acts of corruption are exposed in the future, (s)he ensures that whatever is done has been done apparently without her/his knowledge.

Please read this Firstpost piece about Willful Blindness. To quote Adrian Sanders, “Willful blindness is a legal term. It states that if there is knowledge that you could have had and should have had, but chose not to have, you are still responsible.”

Have you come across instances of Willful Blindness? Please do share your experiences.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

18 thoughts on “Willful blindness

  1. Yes. Sad but true. Head in the sand syndrome. Ask any ostrich. There’s a book by Margaret Heffernan with the same title that talks about why we ignore the obvious at our own peril. I had a boss who would often say – don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. My worst experience has been when things were going excellently with a major account of massive proportions and just one visit by the CEO, who had foot-in-mouth disease, triggered a spate of bribes. He actually said we were ready to do what it took to get the big order when we had already done everything we could, over the table. Ugh. I did take his advice though, by not being too vocal about major orders following this instance. It was a win-win situation for me, because I learned the hard way.

    What you described happens everywhere. And what a pity.

    • Unfortunately, ‘under the table’ has become the first, maybe only option for us. We don’t even try to do things without giving a bribe. If an official does not ask for a bribe, we become uncomfortable.
      The worst part, which I addressed in this post, is the hypocrisy shown by many of us. We get our dirty work done by others (employees, agents, etc.) and pay for it officially, the bribe money being accounted for as ‘Miscellaneous Expenses’.

  2. I don’t see no bribe! The clearance certificate was received without the company having to shell out a paisa as the CEO wanted! He certainly wouldn’t want to know the modus operandi. If he does, he is sure to get into trouble. It’s good he is ‘ignorant’ isn’t it. But certainly not the PM he
    is very well aware of the ‘speed money’ or ‘facilitation fees’ paid by the vendor, after all he has recovered it from his inflated bill. Where he debits the payment is not your headache?

  3. On the matter of where to debit: the MD of a company died. He had to be buried in a costly coffin that was paid in cash to the Funeral House.
    The Secretary didn’t know the head of account. How could one incur expenditure on an employee/MD who was dead and gone? The wise, old Accountant (not the high fangled CFO) came out with a brilliant idea: “Simply debit the entire expenditure to Packing & Forwarding. In fact, you have packed and forwarded the MD’s body!”

  4. Unfortunately this happens almost everywhere, not necessarily in govt. organisations only. In India it is now almost second nature to say ” Chai Pani” with not even the least bit of discomfort. As for the boss unknowingly knowing how & what got them the contract I guess it’s to cover their A#$%.

    • I remember blasting a private sector telephone company technician for asking for ‘chaai paani’. He asked me why I was so hassled, pointing out that he’d not committed murder. I told him that, as far as I’m concerned, a private sector technician behaving like a BSNL technician is as good as murder. The good thing now is, because BSNL started losing customers to private sector companies, BSNL’s service has improved and is now as good as the service of the private sector companies.

    • Ministers, officials, policemen, etc. are the receivers of bribes. Who are the givers of bribes? I, you and other people like us. Yes, we must elect better leaders. But, that’s not enough. We also have to become better people.

  5. Wilful Blindness as a concept is very similar to the concept of “Ignorance of law is no excuse” and in this post, you have clearly highlighted how the CEO was wilfully blind to the entire issue. When he clearly knew that the PM suggested a bribe, he should have surely probed and found out how exactly he managed to get the Clearance Certificate so soon without a bribe.

    • In this case, the CEO knew what would happen. When the supplier informed him, he pretended he had not heard, but he knew exactly what had happened. However, on record, he could claim that all this had happened without his knowledge or approval. He was only performing a CYA (or CYOA) act!

  6. All too often seen here in Bangladesh – it is the single most form of corruption which prevents the country from moving forward in international matters and so development. You capture the manner in which these things happen perfectly.

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