The True Value of Trust in a National Perspective

We cannot put a monetary value on it. We can’t quantify it either. But it is certain that without the tangible element of trust, not much progress can be made whether at the level of single societies or at that of the concert of nations. The loss of trust has sparked the most horrendous wars in the world.

Centuries of work has been laid waste in no time. Despite the ending of wars, mistrust in each other can create tensions having implications not only for the parties involved in the issue; it can spread out to other nations as well.

An act of faith in the voting

Coming back to Mauritius, voters cast their votes on Wednesday last. This is an act of faith and trust. People believe that those they entrust power with will work towards lifting up the country harmoniously to a higher level of social and economic development. They believe that the men and women for whom they’ve voted are capable and honourable, have a high level of integrity and are committed to the lofty cause of the nation as a whole.

Yet, this faith placed in candidates to elections has often been betrayed. Short of displaying their constructive or innovative abilities in the task of nation-building, some politicians have indulged in keeping divisive tensions alive, differentiating one group from the other, caring less for the common good and more for capturing power. Despite such breach of the trust from time to time, people have believed that something good will come out if not now, then at some later stage.

The system in Mauritius has prevented things getting out of hand. Countries in our immediate neighbourhood have not fared as well. In some of them, presidents have perpetuated themselves, even if they have long ceased to deliver in the public interest. They have brought their countries to the brink of disaster or forced their citizens to eke out a miserly living with bleak prospects for the future.

Dishonesty everywhere

This phenomenon of breach of trust is even more pervasive than one might think. Breaches of trust have been taking place across different sectors in different countries. The phenomenon has become common across major “professions”, spanning over the entire planet, with corruption embracing the latest emerging economies from the East to the West.

Large amounts of money entrusted to wielders of our Ponzi schemes the year before last vanished into thin air. Call it a breach of trust, if you will. Many actually believed that they would get the fantastic returns they were being promised. Why lose time to check the credentials of the “financial agents” making those unrealistic and fantastic offers of returns on money, which any reasonable person would have done? What mattered was making money quickly. Eventually, hundreds of millions of rupees were lost in the process.

But the biggest Ponzi scandal took place in no less a place than in New York City in the United States, the same time the international financial crisis was unfolding, thus, as they say, adding insult to injury. There, Bernie Madoff offloaded nearly 150 billion dollars from those who trusted his “skills” to make money “multiply” at a time the market could give only paltry returns on investments. Little did they suspect that such a highly regarded investor by some of the big institutions of the world would actually spirit away the funds they were entrusting him. You don’t always know who is worthy of trust and who is not.

Governments often fail to act on purpose

A report released Tuesday last by the Chief Economist of the 34-member strong OECD, observes that “the richest 10% of the population now earned 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10%, up from seven times in the 1980s”. To remedy this aggravating situation, the recommendations include: “higher top rates of income tax, scrapping tax breaks that tend to benefit higher earners and reassessing the role of all forms of taxes on property and wealth”. It means this has not been done yet.

The question one may ask is: if the tax structure has been favouring the implied aggravation of the lot of those at the bottom of the ladder while lifting up beyond reasonable levels those who are already much higher up, why was no corrective action taken to reverse the situation before it took on such proportions?

And the answer is: those who govern have been led astray or simply been subjugated by the economic power of the rich and powerful. They have therefore refrained from intervening where it was their duty to do so to arrest the indecent accumulation of incomes and wealth by those who already have too much of them to the point of acting as brakes on economic growth. Governments and regulators were told: “Do not interfere”. Business manages to shift political loyalties to itself.

This is the how the power of lobbies incapacitates public institutions from taking the right actions at the right time. That kind of interference happens not solely in rich and upcoming countries; it is very much present in places such as ours. The majority of the people lower down who vote a government in power are misled into believing that those they vote for are going to act in their favour.

How governments fail to discipline business

Since the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2007, people have been having the highest amount of mistrust against bankers, financiers, regulators, politicians and even big media playing into the hands of ‘big business’. The corporate sector is suspected to be acting hand in glove with a web of power wielders to undermine the public interest for the benefit of a few only of the most influential chaps on the planet.

It is this kind of unholy alliance that permits some of the most flagrant abuses of trust perpetuating themselves to the detriment of the public. Have not some of the best known car companies sold cars with serious defects and recalled defective cars only after some of the buyers had already died in accidents? Have not some companies been involved in scandals like selling horsemeat for beef, exaggerating the benefits of drugs they sell, arm-twisting financial and other regulators with the help of politicians to make regulatory regimes convenient for their risk-fraught exaggerated profit-making?

Unethical behaviour associated with bribery and corruption is reported almost regularly by the media in different parts of the world. It shows how much the culture of indiscipline and foupamalisme (couldn’t-care-less attitude) has taken hold of entire swathes of the social framework.

On Tuesday last, the US Senate published a report on torture carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US after the 9/11 barbarous destruction of innocent lives by terrorists hurling planes in 2001 against the World Trade Towers in NY and the Pentagon in Washington DC. The report states that the CIA had covertly employed some of the most brutal undisclosed methods of torture against suspected terrorists in various locations around the world (maybe in our Diego Garcia as well). Worse, it had misled both the White House and Congress about the macabre and grisly techniques it and its contractors had used to torture prisoners. Thus, arms of the government machinery have, just like some of the unworthy politicians and ‘big corporations’, breached the trust which citizens placed on them.

Let’s change course for the better

The unbridled culture of contempt for compliance with the given word the world over has reinforced misbehaviours of different sorts in different places. It poses as a threat to global and individual country stability. Any reasonable person would think that the time has come to stop this unhealthy trend of breaching the trust. Decision takers can send the right signal, if they are minded to reverse this negative trend, by rooting out the unethical behaviour that has spread across the entire spectrum. By putting this poor culture of irresponsibility and superficiality behind, the world will again be in a position to move forward confidently.

A country like Mauritius cannot afford sending out an image of being unworthy of trust. We are too small. Others will pass us by if they form an opinion that we will not live by our commitments to the highest standards of conduct. It all begins at home. The more trust we generate as being reliable and true to our word, the more we’ll be able to instil in ourselves and in our institutions the sterling qualities that have the potential to put us in the league of global high performers.

To make steady progress, we should now get down asserting seriously our good repute and earning the trust of the world.

* Published in print edition on 12 December 2014

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