Good public servants bear the brunt of politicking

by Thobile Madonsela | Published on 26 June 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

President Cyril Ramaphosa was mostly applauded for the composition of his cabinet, if only for the reason that he apparently managed to balance (or rather tap-dance around) competing and controversial personalities, interests and factions. He ‘played the game’ well, say the political commentators and journalists watching from the sidelines. But if politics is a game, and every game has a loser, who is the loser here? Of course one could point to the country as a whole, but it is also important to focus on those who feel the impact most directly: public servants. Public servants, who perform the administrative functions of government, must work with these political appointees who are supposed to give direction and support so that operational processes run smoothly and in accordance with good governance.  

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Human vulnerability is our strength

by Kris Dobie | Published on 27 May 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Recently, at The Ethics Institute’s 9th Annual Conference, Prof Christof Heyns gave an insightful presentation on ‘Programming ethical conduct in robots’. More specifically (and provocatively), ‘killer’ robots. Prof Heyns, in his role as Special Rapporteur for the United Nations, has done a great deal of work exploring the ethical dimensions of such technology, and it made for a fascinating and surprising subject. Most surprising was my realisation that our vulnerability is perhaps our best hope.

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What is a 'vote against corruption' in 2019?

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 25 April 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Jacob Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa as President of South Africa in full view a little more than a year ago: we all watched the dramatic scenes from our couches and on our smartphones. Such is the nature of our system – major decisions are in the hands of political parties. But now, for the first time since, it is the voter’s moment.

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It is not (yet!) too late for organisations to manage their ethics

by Prof Leon van Vuuren | Published on 25 March 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Many organisations are reluctant to manage their ethics performance. Why? When leading practice has moved beyond the question of whether ethics can actually be ‘managed’ (taking it as given that it can), and huge efforts are underway getting the how of ethics management right as well, it seems perverse to ignore this aspect of organisational life. One answer is that the reluctance is nestled in the myth that people are either ethical or they are not, and that there is not much one can do about it. Therefore, ethics cannot really be ‘managed’. This naïve outlook, along with false beliefs, such as ‘it is too expensive’, ‘it is too complicated’ or ‘what happens if things come out?’, are often barriers to applying concerted and structured ethics management interventions.

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The three principles of ethical capitalism

by Dr Paul Vorster | Published on 25 February 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Is ethical capitalism a contradiction in terms? Perhaps, observing the economically unequal society we live in today, one might feel obliged to say ‘yes’. If a system generates such stark disparities in wealth and life prospects for different people, often based entirely on the circumstances of their birth, it would surely by nonsensical to describe that system as ethical. It is instructive, therefore, to pay attention to the moral points that Adam Smith, the ‘Father of Economics’ himself, made about capitalism. Three distinctly ethical principles – prosperity, justice and liberty – were woven into Smith’s famously lucid explanation of the forces shaping what we still call the free market. And it is high time that they were re-emphasised.

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The exposure of corruption - cause for delight or despair?

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 25 January 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

In these early days of 2019, we find ourselves in a situation where the extent and depth of corruption associated with state capture is being exposed on an unprecedented scale. Should we be delighted that all this evidence of malpractice is seeing the light of day, or is it more appropriate to be left with a sense of despair at just how easily people on all levels of government and business can be corrupted?

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Acting ethically beyond mere legal compliance

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 3 December 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Respect for the law is a cornerstone of a just and safe society. Societies that flout legal standards tend to be unsafe; prone to corruption and moral decay. And yet, while legal compliance is essential to a good society, it is not sufficient. More is needed, and that “more” is morality. This is not a new argument, nor is it a particularly innovative one. Yet it warrants repeating, once again, as South African society continues to be shown examples of its truth, with the latest being the extraordinary case of Momentum and the public response thereto.

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The Nene case: an ethical mixed bag

by Prof Deon Rossouw | Published on 10 October 2018

In the aftermath of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, and his subsequent resignation, South Africans have been left with a mixed bag of ethical sentiments. Minister Nene has given us two pictures of himself that seem to be contradictory – a courageous person who resisted signing off on a deal that would have crippled the economy, and a dishonest person who met several times with the infamous Guptas and then lied about it. Which picture is the real Nene? Is it possible to choose one?

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Do we live in a country led by narcissists?

by Dr Paul Vorster | Published on 25 October 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

The modern term, “narcissist”, which we generally use to describe someone who is overly self-absorbed, has its roots in Greek mythology. The story goes that Narcissus was a man who was well known for his physical attractiveness and beauty, but also for his pride and arrogance. He tended to show disdain for those who loved him and would encourage his admirers to commit suicide to prove their devotion. The god Nemesis, disapproving of this behaviour, punished Narcissus by luring him to a pool of water, where he could see his own reflection. Narcissus was so enamoured by his own image that he kept staring at it, unable tear himself away, until he withered away, leaving behind only a flower. 

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What's so great about equality?

by Grace Garland | Published on 25 September 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

In South Africa, and indeed probably any democracy around the world, the idea of ‘equality’ is held up as a core goal for society. This is not new. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato thought that justice was the highest virtue, and that anything inequitable is unjust and anything equitable is just. Revolutionaries in France in 1789 thought that equality belonged with liberty and fraternity as the founding principles of their envisioned post-monarchist society. And here, equality is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. But do we know what we mean when we use the word today? There is a case to be made that we do not, and so expose ourselves to a danger of sorts.

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The paradox of being a whistle-blowing hero

by Liezl Groenewald | Published on 27 August 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

South Africans owe a debt of gratitude to a handful of courageous individuals who stood up against state capture and put their lives and careers in jeopardy. Without them, so much would have been allowed to continue unobstructed, and we would probably be living in a very different country today. Society owes them gratitude. Unfortunately, in many cases, the reality of their experiences has been far from rosy.

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Governance form vs function

by Prof Deon Rossouw and Parmi Natesan | Published on 27 July 2018 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter, along with a joint press release with the IoDSA

One of the most persistent challenges relating to governance is the tendency to focus on form rather than substance. In line with King IV, it’s time finally to accept that governance is not an end in itself, but a tool for delivering outcomes, say Parmi Natesan, Executive: Centre for Corporate Governance at the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA) and Professor Deon Rossouw, CEO of The Ethics Institute.

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