Restoring Trust Beyond State Capture

28 August 2017

Prof Deon Rossouw describes the three critical qualities that organisations ‘tainted’ by state capture must demonstrate to regain the trust of society.

Ethics is a precondition for safe, just, and prosperous societies. If ethics is not embedded in society and in organisations, the inevitable result is a breakdown not only of prosperity, justice and safety, but also of trust. We saw this happening to South Africa under Apartheid, and we are seeing it now again with state capture.

In the private sector, we have already witnessed the voluntary or forced departure of persons accused of abetting state capture in companies such as KPMG, Alexander Forbes, SAP, Bell Pottinger and others. Furthermore, in the public sector, senior executives have started to vacate their positions in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, and SABC, and others are likely to follow soon. There is no doubt in my mind that this implosion in both the private and public sectors will come to its logical end, and the country will step into a new era.

At the dawn of this new era, organisations in both the public and private sectors that lost their reputation, as a consequence of their involvement in state capture, will have to start the long and arduous journey of regaining their legitimacy. This will require them to demonstrate three main qualities: openness, competence, and integrity.

Firstly, organisations that were implicated in state capture must come clean. They will only be able to regain trust if they are open about what went wrong. Sweeping under the carpet things that have gone wrong will not do the trick. The leadership of affected organisations will have to admit to their stakeholders and society at large that there were serious ethical failures that took place on their watch.

Secondly, organisations must demonstrate that they are competent in delivering their mandate to society. The trust of society in the affected organisations has been depleted because these organisations failed to deliver on their mandates – and thus broke their promise to stakeholders. Being ethical is not enough to restore trust. Ethics has to be complemented with competence.

Thirdly, organisations must display integrity. That means that they must commit themselves to well-articulated ethical standards, and must be seen to adhere to these standards. People only trust other people and organisations who predictably adhere to clear ethical standards. Unethical conduct alienates people who are affected by such conduct, and it fuels suspicion and mistrust. For organisations to restore trust in their integrity, they will have to demonstrate that ‘what we say’ is the same as ‘what we do’.

Trust can be lost quickly and easily. Restoring trust is a long process that requires patience in the process of slowly recovering lost ground. But above all, restoring trust requires committed and courageous ethical leadership.

Prof Deon Rossouw is Chief Executive Officer of The Ethics Institute

ENDS

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