Principles and Practice of Fairness

Last Saturday, I met up with a fellow Trini for a chat at a Starbucks here in London.  My friend and I worked in somewhat related areas, so we spent time recalling just how aggressive and sometimes unethical business culture could be.  The concept of ethics, both in business and politics, is one that frequently occupies my thoughts.  When I was much younger, a cynic once told me that it was impossible to earn great wealth while maintaining one’s integrity.  I dismissed this notion at the time, but today there are moments when I find myself in danger of becoming cynical myself.   It bothers me that the cynic in me enjoys Showtime’s ‘House of Lies.’  For those who do not know, it is a series about a team of Management Consultants who have a ‘win at any cost’ work ethic, and the show is based on the book ‘House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You The Time.’

Fortunately, we live in an era of great change, and some decision-makers are advocating a more ethical approach for conducting affairs.  Last week, Barclay’s boss Antony Jenkins demanded that all 140 000 employees worldwide sign up to a new code of conduct or leave.  This is a breath of fresh air from the guy who replaced Bob Diamond to many of us.  Diamond quit / was forced out over Barclays’ role in rigging the Libor rate used in trillions of dollars of financial contracts.  To date, Barclays has been fined a total of £290m by US and UK regulators over this scandal and appears to have learned something useful from experience.

Years ago, I became acquainted with a sitting MP and Cabinet Minister.  He was a moderately successful businessman before entering the political arena. He is one of the few people I have encountered whom I consider genuinely amoral and somewhat unethical.  At first, I found my conversations with him to be incredibly fascinating.  Like the protagonists in House of Lies, he believed that to excel. One must be prepared to do anything required.  It was an ethos that he clearly, consistently, and unflinchingly demonstrated.  Over time my fascination eventually deteriorated into disgust.

There is some debate on whether ethics can be taught.  As part of the continuing education requirement for my IRS Tax qualification, I must do a certain number of CPE hours in ethics every year.  Ethics is also a compulsory module in most Business degrees now.  I am not convinced that a person can be taught to be ethical.  But at the same time, courses in ethics do at least propose a standard of conduct and offer participants a choice.  Otherwise, it would be too easy to believe the cynical view that ethics has no place in ‘successful’ business and politics. US Tax Singapore

I was browsing someone’s blog recently and found a link to a somewhat well-known speech by a politician that I would like to meet one day.  In the speech, he said – “We are at a moment of crisis in our nation’s history where the tides of temerity are evident in every aspect of our lives. The very recent upheavals between the executive and the judiciary, where the holders of high office, at the center of statecraft — from Prime Minister down are calling each other liars.”

The gentleman goes on to quote Yeats – “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” He then notes that “The frightening words of William Butler Yeats bears a striking similarity to what we are facing in our country” and rhetorically asks, “Is the center able to hold?”

The politician who made that speech is Winston Dookeran.  The feature address at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Youth Assembly on August 19th, 2006, when this MP was in Opposition.  It is ironic as many would agree that in light of the political perversion that is the Section 34 fiasco, the above quote is easily applicable to January 2013.

I agree with Mr. Dookeran that in January 2013, “We are at a decisive point in its history, where the principles and practice of fairness and integrity in public life must now be reclaimed.  The salvation of the nation’s conscience rests firmly on our shoulders and, more particularly, on the shoulders of our young population.   It is now the sacred duty of each of you to defend with all your might the ‘integrity and the solidarity of our nation.”

Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.

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