For a cleaner society

Everything boils down to leadership, trust and integrity

In the Hindu epic Ramayana, which is about the life of Prince Rama of Ayodhya and what an ideal society should be like, we are told that the common people tend to mimic the behaviour of their leaders, in their case Prince Rama who later ascends the throne. And that for this reason it is a paramount responsibility of leaders to give the good example in all that they undertake. Today we say simply: leaders must lead by example, implied of course good example.

This truism was already evident that many thousands of years ago, but since human nature has not changed from the beginning (or very little if at all), with the same drives, temptations and impulses persisting down the generations, it is necessary to re-state such truisms in every age, in language and terms that suit the times. Many of our leaders do cite the example of Rama in their speeches; so too do leaders refer to examples from other traditions which they follow. However, as the proverb goes ‘there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’. In other words, saying is one thing and doing is another. It is this disconnect which lies at the basis of many of the dysfunctions in contemporary society.

Among the many ills that are common in practically all countries across the world, perhaps the more damaging and daunting one is corruption. It takes many forms, and the most spectacular cases – usually dubbed as ‘scandal’ – in recent times are only too well known, such as the Enron scandal and the financial crisis of 2008 among others. Those exposed in the cases that came to light have comprised corporations and businesses, auditing firms, financiers, high-profile individuals in different fields, and politicians of various hues. It goes without saying that the latter receive greater attention by the very nature of their mandate which they are granted by an eminently public and publicized process, namely elections. They are therefore called to the highest standards of probity.

Countries have tried to tackle the problem of corruption by various means, and the more democratic ones have set up organisms of the type ‘Independent Commission Against Corruption’ as the main arm in the endeavour to stem the rot. These have been more or less effective, depending upon how they are run and/or perceived. As the problem concerns all societies, it is always instructive to try and learn from others who have more experience in the matter.

For example, an article published in The Conversation on January 10, 2017 by Adam Graycar, Professor of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders University, Australia titled ‘Stamping out political rorts requires a cultural change, not more bodies to police’ begins with: ‘Calls for a federal Independent Commission against Corruption-like body are growing following Health Minister Sussan Ley standing aside while several of her travel entitlement claims are investigated.’ Most significantly, it concludes with: ‘…leadership and integrity are a better way to solve the problem rather than another executive agency.’

Some extracts from that article, which is about corruption by politicians, will ring a bell:

‘…the sorts of problems Australian politicians have recently embroiled themselves in: wasting money riding in helicopters to a party function when they could have driven; meeting with business contacts while impartially representing the government; or claiming travel allowances for trips…’

‘…we need to foster a culture of integrity rather than entitlement.’

‘…corrupt politicians and officials gouging what they can from a hapless public.’

‘Australia has processes for good administration and good procurement, solid administrative law and regulatory agencies that generally are not captured by the interests they regulate.’

‘…people took advantage of these opportunities (for corruption) – and even created them.’

‘If the problem is an ingrained culture of corruption…’

Under the sub-heading ‘What can be done?’, we find the following:

‘What Australia needs is a stronger culture of integrity. There needs to be a clear understanding that public office is for public benefit and not personal gain.’

‘What will stop them is honestly understanding the nature of public service, that they are public property and their behaviour is on the public record.’

‘It is not possible to make a rule for every possible situation…’

‘…that is not the solution. The solution is a culture of integrity that is driven from the top. Leaders must lead, be above suspicion themselves and show they have a zero-tolerance approach to the manipulation of the system.’

And then the conclusion: ‘…leadership and integrity are a better way to solve the problem rather than another executive agency.’

Clearly, there is a strong message here for all leaders to engage in critical self-analysis and find out for themselves where they have so faulted that they have aroused the ire and disgust of the public towards them. Of late in writings about the failure of democracy, a term that frequently came up was ‘trust deficit’ on the part of public figures, mainly politicians. It is up to them to do whatever is required to restore that trust. As pointed out at the beginning of this article, there are sufficient sources in the history of human civilisations to act as inspiration and guide. Why not allow themselves to be genuinely steered by the values that these sources enshrine? That would be infinitely better for the public good than merely referring to them in speeches and then paying lip-service to them.

RN Gopee

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