| February 18 2003
The boss lets me buy stuff on the company account. It means
I don't pay retail price for my computer gear. Ethically, I think this is ok.
Tax is still being paid as required. It's a small price break for me, which helps
make up for not being paid as much as I might get elsewhere, and recognises
that much of this stuff gets used for the company anyway.
At the other extreme is the local councillor who gets a
payment for his favourable vote on a development project. This is bribery.
In between is the issue of big screen TV'S.
loaned the Prime Minister and the Communications Minister plasma screen TV's.
When does a favour become a bribe? I ask this question
because we Australians seem curiously relaxed about these current events.
I'm also interested because there are a multitude of issues where we often
have inside knowledge or opportunity. We constantly have opportunities to,
as they say, sail close to the wind. I discovered the other day, that without
even asking, a taxi driver had increased the amount of my receipt. I
was a bit surprised... and then stunned, when on the way back, the next taxi
driver did the same thing! Only 10 or 20 cents.... but still a
lie. I'm gearing up to check in the cab next time, and ask for the
What is it to live morally? What is the difference between
-me selling my EDS shares because I know their contract is up for renewal,
-a public servant selling hers, or telling her husband to sell his, because she
knows from work that the one
billion dollar contract with the SA government will not be renewed? Does it
matter? She has insider knowledge. And what about me? I know the bitter
complaints of government IT people I have interfaced with. The writing has
been on the wall about EDS. Do I have a kind of insider status compared to the average
person in the street? Are these examples perhaps trivial, and showing
simple common sense, compared to taking an obvious bribe?
It is the more trivial seeming moral decisions which are
the small gravel in the moral cement of our community.
As we consider these issues we need to recognise there is no
fixed moral code to which we can refer. Life is too complicated to have a codified answer to each
specific issue which arises. We need to work from some basic principles. In
theological terms we would say that:
1. All people are equal before God and therefore deserve
equal treatment, opportunity, and respect, and:
2. Christian ethics seek to honour the earth and its
creatures, not just people.
Point one implies ideas like honesty, openness in
government, justice, and truth telling. God is consistently shown in the
bible as being
particularly concerned with the lot of the poor and defenceless. Our
decision making ethics should reflect this if we claim Christian allegiance.
The second point suggests our behaviour should be
ecologically responsible and sustainable.
These two points should at all times be allowed to question
and modify our self interest and our profit margins.
A further implication of point one is that the right thing
should be seen to be done. Confidence in the system is to the benefit of
everyone, especially the poor. I am more likely to be charitable to the
poor, and responsible to the environment, if I am confident in the
honesty of the system around me.
On corporate and public levels we have guidelines in place to
try and ensure some of these principles. Pecuniary interest registers,
conflict of interest rules, and corporations law all allow society to operate
with the confidence that at least the excesses of self interest are under
The real character of society, however, is
most nurtured where
people's private life is lived, and their character shaped, according to
these principals-- where a person's character means the contracts and
legalities are really only a formality and not a necessary protection. And
where a contract is a record of promises rather than an enforcement.
For some of our clients the boss just says to "go ahead and
order." Their word is enough, you don't need to wait for a formal signed
reply. These are the best people to work with. Their honesty is an
outworking of persona! character, not legal obligation. They are good to
work with not only because you don't have to watch your back all the time.
They are good to work with because they sustain and even help regenerate my
faith in humanity and society.
When it comes to wide screen TV'S , I conclude the
politicians have stayed inside the rules or else we would have heard much
more ruckus from Canberra. However, they have not demonstrated
personal character. Justice is seen to have been done in only the most
formal way. Confidence has not been nurtured, only cynicism- which is a
blight on our society already. Alston and Howard may be inside the law but
they have fallen short of the ethical and character standards we need. So
too has Telstra. The Prime Minister has failed as a leader of the nation,
and the fine gravel of society has had some poor quality mortar packed
between the bricks.