What hap­pened to in­tegrity?

Cor­rup­tion in SA has devastating ef­fect on poor peo­ple ex­ploited by the un­scrupu­lous

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION -

THE philoso­pher Con­fu­cius said, “… the strength of a na­tion de­rives from the in­tegrity of the home”, and mod­ern man­age­ment guru

Zig Ziegler as­serts “… hon­esty and in­tegrity are by far the most im­por­tant as­sets to be non­nego­tiable re­quire­ments in the pur­suit of any last­ing suc­cess”.

Yet, in­creas­ingly, this seems to es­cape many peo­ple, glob­ally. The oc­cur­rences of los­ing in­tegrity through ly­ing or steal­ing or loot­ing, seems to be at an all-time high.

Over the past decade we are wit­ness to vex­ing short­falls in in­tegrity in South Africa, whether as spec­ta­cles of cor­po­rate greed or em­bed­ded net­works co-opt­ing govern­ment re­sources for per­sonal gain – state cap­ture. In short, we are in an in­ces­sant bat­tle against cor­rup­tion. Like­wise, re­cent months have been emo­tion­ally tax­ing for an al­ready shell-shocked na­tion. Com­pa­ra­ble with a re­cur­ring night­mare, per­sist­ing crime and cor­rup­tion have be­come a new re­al­ity that all law-abid­ing South Africans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing at the hands of ne­far­i­ous ma­raud­ers.

The new “nor­mal” re­lat­ing to a “trust deficit” has be­come force­fully in­grained into the na­tional psy­che. Not a day goes by when we don’t wake to hear about the per­ilous state of be­ing in which in­tegrity is re­peat­edly des­e­crated and bru­tally kicked out the door.

As the gov­er­nance of our lead­er­ship con­tin­ues to de­cline the facts clearly show how bil­lions of rand have been squan­dered for the ben­e­fit of a few cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als, whose names ap­pear reg­u­larly in the news. What has hap­pened to our eth­i­cal val­ues and moral com­pass that causes the truth of our feel­ings to be so deeply sup­pressed, know­ing full well that our so­ci­etal stan­dards are be­ing de­hu­man­ised daily?

The “heist” at VBS Mu­tual Bank, which is the equiv­a­lent of a glo­ri­fied Ponzi scheme, is among the lead­ing ex­am­ples of cor­po­rate “loot­ing” that South Africa has wit­nessed in re­cent months. Other ex­am­ples in­clude the al­leged “mis­man­age­ment” at the African Bank, the al­leged Gupta thefts in ca­hoots with

SAP, a Ger­man-based soft­ware com­pany and McKin­sey, the al­leged “im­pro­pri­ety” sagas of Stein­hoff, the al­leged wrong­do­ings at MTN and Mul­tichoice and the peren­nial au­dit­ing vi­o­la­tor KPMG. Un­like other com­mer­cial banks, a mu­tual bank is much smaller and does

DHIRU SONI

not of­fer a full bou­quet of bank­ing ser­vices. The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween com­mer­cial banks and mu­tual banks is that de­pos­i­tors who save in the lat­ter be­come share­hold­ers with vot­ing rights at an­nual gen­eral meet­ings.

His­tor­i­cally, th­ese banks were started by phi­lan­thropists, who took on the po­si­tions of sav­ings bank trustees, man­agers, and directors as op­por­tu­ni­ties to teach the work­ing class the virtues of thrift and sel­f­re­liance by al­low­ing them the se­cu­rity to save their money.

The VBS Bank plun­der is the prover­bial last straw that has to­tally shat­tered the trust that or­di­nary cit­i­zens have in the in­tegrity of lead­er­ship in our coun­try.

Cor­po­rate lead­er­ship has sim­ply reached the pits in terms of im­moral be­hav­iour. They shame­lessly den­i­grated them­selves by steal­ing from the poor­est of the poor.

The cries of help from Mu­lalo Ra­mano, a frail 72-year-old widow from an im­pov­er­ished black com­mu­nity, ex­em­pli­fies the real tragedy of the VBS theft. She was a mem­ber of a burial so­ci­ety that de­cided to in­vest in the Venda Build­ing So­ci­ety to take care of the fu­neral needs of her fam­ily. There were many oth­ers who were in a sim­i­lar predica­ment, trau­ma­tised by the fact that they lost in­vest­ments and were un­able to bury their de­ceased with dig­nity. To add salt to the wounds cal­lously in­flicted on poor peo­ple, some of th­ese repro­bates and their fam­ily mem­bers, pos­ing as celebri­ties, were re­cently shown in press pho­to­graphs liv­ing the “high life”. They are heart­less and de­void of ba­sic in­tegrity and an em­bar­rass­ment to so­ci­ety. De­spi­ca­ble, to say the least.

One of the big­gest rea­sons peo­ple vi­o­late their in­tegrity is try­ing to achieve some­thing they want in the face of what nor­mal chan­nels would not al­low.

In essence, it is dis­re­gard for es­tab­lished norms, morals, ethics, and laws in pur­suit of per­sonal ag­gran­dis­e­ment.

Work­ing to achieve suc­cess is fine. Break­ing the rules is not. Workplace ful­fil­ment does not have to come at the ex­pense of oth­ers.

In the con­text of the lapse in in­tegrity, can one pic­ture the devastating ef­fects of the clo­sure of the VBS Bank on the poor ru­ral com­mu­nity in Tho­hoyan­dou?

The preva­lence of sys­temic cor­rup­tion and low lev­els of trust and in­tegrity con­tin­ues to widen and deepen so­ci­etal fis­sures, ex­ac­er­bate in­equal­ity and im­pede the ef­fi­cacy of both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors.

Grow­ing ev­i­dence sug­gests that cor­rup­tion both feeds on and is fed by the broader cri­sis of trust, which sus­tains a vi­cious cy­cle that un­der­mines eco­nomic health and so­cial co­he­sion.

This is why busi­nesses must not turn away from cor­rup­tion. Cor­po­rates that do not act will be­come com­plicit in hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions if they pur­sue busi­ness as usual. Fail­ure to act will be in­ter­preted as tacit ap­proval.

As Ed­mund Burke wrote, “All that is nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil is that good men do noth­ing.”

Pro­fes­sor Soni is Di­rec­tor for Re­search and In­no­va­tion at RE­GENT Busi­ness School and writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

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