Ethics and the State

I feel it is time for us to have a look at the role of ethics in our politics, whether our leaders follow any ethical code and most importantly...

I feel it is time for us to have a look at the role of ethics in our politics, whether our leaders follow any ethical code and most importantly who watches the watchmen.

As a citizen in a country, which is chronically afflicted by corruption and its symptoms, this piece has been long in coming and slowly simmering till it has reached this point.

First off let us define the term we are using. Ethics can and has been described as the moral principle that guides the actions and behaviours of individuals or groups. Understanding the definition is important if we are to understand what, if any, ethics our leaders have and will in some way help us answer who watches the watchmen. Note that in the description it says nothing of a person or group acting good or bad, it simply talks about principles guiding actions and behaviours.

Some people will say and have us believe that the actions of some politicians are unethical. I don’t think that is the case at all. If we are to use the textbook definition, the actions of some polticians are in line with the ethics of both political parties and most powerful individuals in this country.

What is unethical in these alleged actions? How can we talk about a breach of ethics when it is widely accepted by the public that a ministerial position simply means first dibs when it comes to the trough? Where is the lack of ethics in continuing what is and has always been a political rite of passage and everyday occurrence?

If we accept that ethics are simply the guiding principles of a person or group, that they are, in other words, the moral compass, we must acknowledge after some time that these are the ethical views of our two major parties. We must come to terms with the fact that they are okay with corruption and that it forms a key part of their being. We must face the reality that our politicians have (either through their own reasoning or by brainwashing through the two parties) no moral problem with corruption and see it as part of doing business.  It is part of their ethical make-up.

The ethics of the State, the principles guiding them, are something along the lines of taking as much as you can now, while keeping the people in mental bondage, as tomorrow it may all blow up. We see this every day with every interaction with the State and its agents and agencies where they are trapped in the 20th century (70s) and understaffed while the politicians and certain civil servants run off with the kitty. 

It may go against our ethical code and be unethical in our eyes, but don’t for a minute think that in the eyes of those carrying out the theft that they are not acting strictly within their ethical code and as such have no problems sleeping at night.

It is not enough to say, ‘our leaders are unethical’ or ‘they lack principles’. A dog is a dog, and a tame, trained dog which joins a pack of wild street dogs will either adjust or die. Our potential and future leaders (see tame dogs) join one of two political parties or model themselves on certain business persons (see street dogs). Their morals are what they are at that point and instead we should be saying their ethics do not match up to mine and run them.

Now we move to the question of the watchdogs and who watches them. It is not breaking news that in Jamaica we can list on one hand the number of officials who have been charged for corruption. It is also not new that one of the few things all Jamaicans can unite around is the need to get rid of the corrupt entities in our society. The question must then be asked why is it that our watchdogs (the DPP, Auditor General, Ombudsman, OCG, Public Defender, MOCA, FID etc) have not charged more people? 

One theory of why so little is done is that people know, by past examples, that rocking the boat too much leads to a hellish life, ruined reputation and no job at home. To put it another way, it pays you not to dig too deeply into what, on the face of it, looks like a made-up allegation against a powerful individual.

This then leaves us the average man and woman in the street to watch the watchmen. It is up to us to accept that our politicians and their parties have the moral compass of Atilla the Hun and Ferdinand Marcos and appreciate that our agencies will, for the most part, not act because the status quo pays (or alternatively, rocking the boat would hurt them professionally at home).

Accept the realities for what they are, that is the first step towards change, and with that acceptance, knowing it is in our hands we must push the agencies and agents to do the right thing or make their lives hell as an alternative.

Hell need not be physically assaulting individuals or even louding them up. It would, however, mean that we as a people take to the streets and demand that action, which we deem as ethical, is taken. It means doing what was done in Ecuador, it means doing what was done in South Korea, and it means doing what is currently being done in Haiti.

Accepting that our leaders have warped ethics and that our watchdogs will not bark unless pushed, it is up to us to either push them into action (trials and the dismantling of the two rotten parties) or make peace with the kleptocracy we live in. It is hard and I know that we as nation are so disgusted with politics and anything relating to it, but we must realise that the last time the State listened to us was when we were united on the streets and making life hell (the gas riots); and that we need to do it again if we are to achieve better.

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