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Ethical leadership, governance and fighting corruption


“ Many speak strongly, quietly, but effectively as whistle-blowers. There aren't enough women in powerful positions, and the few in power often don't have enough organisational roots to challenge the men they find in powerful enclaves within the organisations they run. Speaking out is indeed risky and isolating.” — Thuli Madonsela.

One of my favourite persons in South Africa is Thulisile Nomkhosi “Thuli” Madonsela, whom I met six months ago in Pretoria. She was South Africa's public protector from October 2009 to October 2016. Of all her achievements and high-profile positions that she has held, it is the public protector position that most put her in the public eye. During her tenure, she investigated several high-profile cases, including the probe into State resources allocated to Jacob Zuma's Nkandla residence upgrade, 'Secure in Comfort', March 19, 2014, and the State capture report, 'State of Capture', November 2, 2016. For her role as public protector, Madonsela received international praise for her efficiency and professionalism, including recognition by the Daily Maverick, Time, Glamour, Transparency International, and the BBC.

Image - Thuli Madonsela

She speaks in whispering tones. When she walks into a room and begins speaking, people sit up and listen. Fearless and resolute, this is the woman who has taken on some of South Africa's most powerful politicians and won. A human rights lawyer and activist, with beginnings as a unionist and assistant teacher, Madonsela helped draft South Africa's world-famous constitution after the country became a democracy in 1994. She gave up a Harvard scholarship to do so.

I mentioned Madam Thuli because it is important for us, as a democratic society, to ensure that we hold leaders in Government and their agencies responsible for their actions and sometimes inactions. That was what Thuli did, and did, and did. What she achieved in seven years as public protector, few have accomplished in a lifetime.

I have been asking myself lately, who is the watchdog for ethical behaviour in Government and the public sector? We seem to be so caught up fighting corruption that we forget it is the 'small' unchecked unethical behaviour in the governance of a country or a company that makes it a breeding ground for corruption. Jamaica needs a watchful pit bull for unethical behaviour to bark and bite unethical leadership and hold people accountable.

Serving the public interest civil servants and public officials are expected to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in government by demonstrating the highest standards of professional competence, efficiency and effectiveness, upholding the constitution and the laws, and seeking to advance the public good at all times. When they cut corners and engage in maladministration — which refers to the making of an official decision in a manner which is contrary to law, arbitrary, unreasonable, without proper justification, lacking in procedural fairness, or made without due consideration of the merits of the matter, or made corruptly — they should be held accountable.

If Jamaica wants to tackle corruption it must pay attention to unchecked unethical behaviour among those in Government and the public sector, as a whole. It is the lack of this oversight of unethical behaviour why we have politicians and leaders in the public sector acting unethically with impunity — no one resigns or is held accountable.

When governance and ethics fail, those responsible must be brought to book. An oversight ethics watchdog should examine cases of:

(a) alleged appointment and salary progression of certain connected member in government, which might constitute improper conduct and maladministration;

(b) fraudulently misrepresentation of qualifications in order to benefit from senior position in the public sector;

(c) alleged appointment(s) and salary progression of certain senior official in the public sector were irregular and accordingly constitute improper conduct and maladministration;

(d) alleged inappropriate appointment of public servants or consultant which constitutes improper conduct and maladministration;

(e) alleged purging of senior officials from government agencies resulting in unnecessary financial losses to an agency by way of court settlements and, accordingly, financial mismanagement;

(f) alleged irregularity in the increase of the salaries of specific connected persons without due process;

(g) alleged systemic corporate governance failures;

(h) alleged misuse of public office for private gain, which is the standard definition of corruption; and

(i) serious conflict of interest that gives a politician or any civil servant unfair advantage.

Why governance fails?

Speaking at an event organised by the Business Ethics Network of Africa, at which she was presented with an award for extraordinary achievements in good governance and ethical leadership, Madonsela remarked, “If you hold office it is your duty to investigate these kinds of allegations. If you do not, you are insinuating that the whistle-blower is lying.”

In accepting the award, she spoke on the topic, 'Why Governance Fail?

It fails because of a deficit in ethical leadership. It fails because of an absence of rules and procedures. It fails when an entity or institution depends on one individual to uphold the ethics of the organisation, rather than everyone in that organisation taking collective responsibility to protect the integrity of that organisation, she said.

Ethics and governance do not necessarily fail because people make mistakes. “Appointing someone or awarding a tender thinking you are following the rules could be a mistake. It is what you do next that counts. Do you keep on lying? Or do you privately admit that what was done was wrong, but publicly say it was fine? These would be ethical failures. Every democratic society needs to demand this kind of governance.

Our politicians need to learn that when they are in power, it is not their power. It is assumed that they will not make decisions that will improve the fortunes of their family or friends, but rather those that enhance the lives of the entire collective, including those that did not vote for them. If you have been elected, you must repay the trust that has been placed in you with the highest standard of ethical leadership.

If Rudyard Spencer completely understood what ethical leadership means he would not utter these words: “We have a system where we will now have our own chairman of RADA [Rural Agricultural Development Authority] and things have been happening, and things can happen at RADA. But naturally, you will meet some bottlenecks because we have just taken over the system and we are trying to find our way around the system. Where you never have a parish manager for RADA, you now have a Labourite being the chairman of RADA, so whatever problems you used to have… I believe now most of those problems would have gone away because you have your own manager to assist in the management of RADA… So, therefore, you can't say that you are getting no attention, you can't say nothing is happening, because in fairness, you have your own manager to report whatever problems you have and expect him to solve those problems,” ( Jamaica Observer, March 21, 2018).

A politician continued to serve even after his “run wid it” speech, in which he boasted about being somewhat fiscally reckless in the name of helping the People's National Party to secure electoral victory — a clear case of unethical behaviour from a political leader who served many years after until his retirement from representational politics without answering a ethics watchdog body. Since then we have had many instances that resemble “run wit it' practices with the absence of the speech.

Madonsela notes that leadership is about understanding that when you are at the pinnacle of an organisation people look up to you whether you like it or not. “People look to you to see what the right thing is. And people look up to you to see what is the right way to do the right thing. And what you do, somehow people follow it.”

The principles of ethical governance should be mainstreamed in the public sector, and the time has come for there to be a an institutionalised body that gives ethical oversight to the public sector. We need the Madonselas of Jamaica to step forward and no longer whisper but to speak truth to power.

Henry J Lewis is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Humanities and Social Sciences.



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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