Is an era of ethical deficit upon us?


Is an era of ethical deficit upon us?

Writes: Malesela Maubane

Going through news notifications recently, boom, appears the 2017 story about ratings agency Moody’s R11.7 billion in penalties for false credit ratings and its role in the United States 2008 financial crisis.  S & P Global Ratings was also reported to have paid about R26 billion fines in 2016 on similar charges.

These stories prompted me to reflect on Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa’s assertion on the occasion of the 8th Annual Percy Qoboza Memorial, that there is generally ethical and moral deficit in our society.

The Oxford dictionary defines ethics as a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct. What is one to say when bodies or companies which are expected to be paragons of ethical conduct and professional standards behave in a rogue way?

In terms of morality, what is one to make of pupils who are beating up their teachers to, the rampant fighting among pupils, gangs and bullying at schools?

Steinhoff’s accounting irregularities and involvement of companies like McKinsey, KPMG and Bell Pottinger in less than honest business dealings in South Africa should be a cause of concern. Even though McKinsey apologised for their misdemeanours and paid back about R902 million to Eskom for consulting services, it could take some doing to regain the public’s trust and repair its damaged reputation.

What has caused the erosion of ethical conduct and good governance? Who is supposed to guard professionals and are they selling their right to operate to the mafia?

Would be befitting to borrow from Dr Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair of MO Ibrahim Foundation, “Business people get many undeserved prizes-golden parachutes and bonuses even when companies fail. I don’t think people should get rewarded for screwing up.”

As one is agonising about ethics, the observation is that the accounting and the auditing professions are fingered in the demise of VBS Mutual Bank whilst the public relations profession has also come under fire in terms of ethical conduct, professional standards and reputation. It is commendable that we still have the Judiciary intact.

In the midst of all the rules, regulations, PRISA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Standards, codes like the King Report on Corporate Governance, Professor Thuli Madonsela, University of Stellenbosch Social Justice Chair and former Public Protector, sums it up by saying, “Through life I learned that the most important critic whose judgement of my actions matters is my conscience.”