We always make decisions as individuals or as a nation. The question is, do we ever stop to think whether our decisions conform to our ethical or moral values. It is imperative in my view that whatever we do or decide to do must be based on the fact that it is the right thing to do. We should not do things just because we have the right to do or have the power to do it so.
Before we discuss whether it is important to make sure that whatever we decide on should always reflect our ethical values. Let us start by examining what we understand by ethics.
A good friend of mine and a former colleague at Kgolagano College Dr. Vincent Dippenaar once said “ethicists are endangered species”. He was giving a public lecture on current moral issues facing Botswana. According to Dippenaar, ethics is about the truth and many people prefer lies than the truth. What this mean is that sometimes people know the right thing to do and in most cases do the wrong thing.
Ethics from Christian perspective is the study of how human ought to live as informed by the Bible and Christian conviction. However, ethics is a broader concept. The English word ethic comes from the Greek word ethica, which comes from ethos meaning what relates to character.
The ancient Greek ethicist Aristotle suggested that ethica is derived directly from ethos which means custom or habit. In more general sense, ethics is often viewed as one major branch of broader discipline of philosophy. In that case ethics is regularly defined as moral philosophy. The origin of the term moral is the Latin mos (adjective moalis) which is like Greek contemporary meaning custom or usage
There is a thin line between ethics and morality or morals. Ethics is the study of the right and the good and morality is the practice or living out what one believes to be right and good. Morality involves the actual living out of one’s beliefs that such things as lying and murder are wrong, whereas ethics entails the study of why it is that these practices are immoral.
Wayne Meeks describes ethics as a reflective second-order activity and morality is referred as self-conscience. Although ethics and morality may not be completely synonymous, to set up too strict a distinction between the two, is probably arbitrary. The presences of the terms in the English language reflect the ethical Greek and Latin heritage of the English language.
It was the great Greek thinkers like Socrates in the fifth century B.C who perused the question of the good. They sought to determine what constitutes a good person. Since Socrates’ day generation of philosophers have reflected of morality, moral problems and moral arguments. Jack Glickman for example, describes moral philosophy as consideration of various kinds of questions that arrive in thinking about how one ought to live one’s life.
Glickman then explains, we want to know, for example, which actions are right and which are wrong. Which activities and goals are worthwhile and which are not; and which action and institutions are just and which are unjust. At the same time we especially want to find out how one can justify judgments about what is right, good, just or worthwhile and precisely what such judgment mean. We also want to know how all these various questions are interrelated.
Seen as the moral philosophy as the pursuit of question such as these, ethics is not an exclusively Christian endeavor. One does not need to be a Christian to engage in philosophical reflections on morality nor does this endeavor necessarily draw primarily from scriptures or the Christian tradition. Rather human reasons stand at the centre of philosophical, ethical enterprise.
Ethics as moral philosophy seek to develop a conception of the ethical life in which all humans could participate and to which all humans could have access through the use of human reason. And it is especially concerned to providing a rational justification for morality, perhaps in a somewhat scientific manner.
Ethicists divide ethics into three major dimensions namely empirical, normative and analytical. Empirical ethics or descriptive morals, involves the observation of moral decision making process with a goal of description or explanation of the phenomenal. Empirical ethicists studies how people actually make ethical decisions. Normative ethics, when we hear or use the word ethics, we more likely have the normative ethics in mind.
Normative comes from the word norm, which in this context means standard or principle. So normative ethics is connected with the formulation of standards or principle of living. It involves assertions as to what is or is not worth pursuing and what is or not to be done.
We engage in normative ethics whenever we form opinions or judgments about what is right, good or obligatory and whenever we offer reasons for such judgments we also enter the realm of normative ethics when we describe a person, things or acts or good or evil, admirable or despicable. In ethics such discussions are about theories of values.
Each day we make arguments of various types. Many of them fall under the context of normative ethics, for they reflect what we consider to be the norms or standards of moral obligation for, state what someone is morally obligated to do or be.
These maybe quite particular, referring to a specific in a specific situation. There is a saying that honesty is the best policy meaning that people are morally obligated to tell the truth. Unlike judgments of moral obligation, judgments of moral values do not declare….what someone ought to do or be, rather they express what we value.
The third aspect of the ethical discipline is analytical ethics. Analytical derives from analyze which means to take things apart, to look at the constituent pieces of something. Therefore analytical ethics take ethics apart. It explores the nature of morality itself. It attempts to build a theory as to what value judgment mean and how they can be justified.
Analytical ethicists pursue the question of definition. What is good and ought to mean? What are we asserting when we say a person is free or responsible? What does it mean to say something is good? On what basis can one say judgment is good or true? But they also seek to determine how such ethical judgment can be established or justified. They raise the question, what form the foundation for making value judgments? For example on what basis can one say that the relocation of Basarwa from CKGR was morally wrong?
One person who did not merely talk about boundary situation, but actually focused on ethical quandary was Socrates. According to Plato, Socrates’ student Crito and friend advised him while Socrates was on death row that there was plan to rescue him from prison. Socrates refused to escape from prison neither did he allow his enemy to kill him; instead he decided to take his own life.
Decision making is not a simple process; it needs among other things intelligence, determination and bravery. You don’t wake up in the morning and decide about your future or the future of the organization or the people you lead. Human beings are social animals, whatever you think is personal and making decision for yourself will somehow somewhere affect others in one way or another.
Those we elect to represent us in different institutions and organizations should know that the decisions they make should always reflect the ethical values of the organization or institution they lead. But some of them, the moment they have been elected into those positions they forget completely about those who voted them into power.
Sometimes when you listen to some members of parliament and councilors tabling motions, or debating issues, you are forced to ask yourself the central question, are these people in the council chambers or parliament by mistake. Some will oppose something even if it is going to benefit his or her….constituency just because it is from the opposition or vice versa. If an idiot says, let’s run the rain is coming and you just stay because it is the idiot, who says the rain coming first, then it is you who is an idiot and the idiot becomes a clever person. If the BDP come up with some programs which are helping people encourage people to use those programs to better their lives.
And if the opposition comes up with motions which might help the people, my expectation is that BDP MPs should support those motions. When MPs are in parliament they should work as a team to serve Batswana. This does not mean opposition MPs should always support BDP otherwise there will be no opposition.
The same can be said about the BDP MPs. They cannot be expected to support everything from the opposition, but there are times when what is proposed either side is in the interest of the nation. Those who are elected to represent their constituencies in parliament and they miss the parliament sessions and at the end of the month they get their salaries, ethically speaking they are thieves.
They have stolen from the nation because they were given money which they did not deserve. They are worse than those who accepted housing allowances by mistakes while staying in government houses. When we take ethics to its logical conclusion, we can see that while we make noise everyday about moral crisis facing the youth, the real moral crisis is the one faced by the elders. When 95% of the wealth of the country is owned by 2% of the population of this country, then we have a serious moral crisis.
Immorality is more than just who is sleeping with whom, where and how or (matanyola). Some of the so called ills of the society are in fact they are symptoms of the real diseases of the society. In ethics we say social ethics produce individual ethics, not the other way round. How do you expect a young poor boy to refuse matanyola when matonyola can bring food on the table.
That is why Thomas Sankara used to say there are different kinds of prostitutions and prostitutes. The difference according to Thomas Sankara is on time and amount involved. There are those who stand in the streets and get $10 for thirty minutes and some for $20 for an hour. Some $50 for a night and others $100 for a week or month. Some marry for a year or two and then they divorce after getting what they wanted. In Sankara’s view, they are all prostitutes.
The difference is time and amount. My former German Pastor, Peter Ohligschlager, used to say almost the same about thieves. According to Pastor Peter Ohligschlager, there are those small thieves who pick pocket, those who break into houses, and those who make laws in their favor in order to enrich themselves from public wealth. Ethically according to Ohligschlager they have taken what they don’t deserve.
What I am stating here are ethical issues. And according to Socrates, ethical questions must be settled by reason alone. And secondly ethical questions are answered according to the standards of the person involved, not in consideration of what others think.
And third according Socrates, the outcome of an act is irrelevant the only consideration is whether it is intrinsically right or wrong. In this declaration Socrates delineated what has become a fundamental watershed in ethics, the differentiation between the deontological and theological (or consequentialist) approaches to ethical decision making.
He set forth he divide between those who declare that the right should be done for its own sake and those who base moral duty on some goal to be thereby attained. It is imperative in my view that when we make decision we ask ourselves whether it is intrinsically right or wrong. And more importantly, when we say so and so, it’s immoral, we ought to look at the standard of the person we are talking about.
As I said, above most of the time we blame the youth of immorality. If we compare the standard of the youth to that of some elders who are engaged in immoral activities under the cover of law or legality, ethically speaking what is intrinsically wrong is wrong regardless of what the law says. Remember Socrates was sentenced to death by court of law but he did nothing wrong. His “crime” was to teach the youth about the truth and their right. Let us make decision which one is comparable to our standards as leaders and also which are intrinsically right.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.