Accountability is an Elusive Ethic

Since Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the Serpent, humankind has found it very hard to “‘fess up”. To deny guilt and dodge blame is and has always been a fundamental human trait. From childhood, we naturally refute any accusation of wrongdoing. “It’s not my fault!” is programmed into our vocabulary from earliest speech. Which is why the George Washington cherry tree story is so memorable – it is such unusual behaviour for a child, let alone an adult, to make open admission of guilt.

The current highly publicized examples of this behaviour only serve to remind us of our humanity. Whether it is the CEO of BP Oil, various miscreant Ministers of British and New Zealand governments past and present, Mayors, Judges, finance company tycoons, or other leaders of our society and economy, all are behaving as humans have since Garden of Eden days. Even Popes and US Presidents seem to struggle with mea culpa. It seems that people’s ethical behaviour will generally disappoint.

Which is why we need wise laws, regulations, codes of practice, audits and a free press, so that governments, corporations and leaders can be held to account, thus mitigating the scale and scope of inevitable and ever-present wrongdoing and greed. This is not just pious claptrap – the agony of the Global Financial Crisis and its trillions of dollars’ destruction of savings, asset values, world living standards and job prospects could and would have been avoided by sound regulation and Best Practice Governance.

In the New Zealand context, “of the 80 finance company failures during the past five years, only 14 % of directors were members of the Institute of Directors”, says Professor Locke of Waikato University. [and of those, very few were Accredited (WD)]. He identifies a “failure of NZ Inc… a national problem with corporate governance, and urges corporate New Zealand to require all directors to undergo formal governance training. This might just avoid future destruction of wealth”.

However you create and safeguard your wealth, may you hold your politicians, directors, managers and service providers to Best Practice standards of accountability, risk management, business behaviour and personal responsibility.