Ethics in business: As we sign off in the end…

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

So like many, Netflix and Amazon Prime has taken a somewhat off-center stage (thankfully not center) in my life too during the Covid-19 lockdown. And as a quick disclaimer, let me assure you this isn’t an article on Covid-19, the alleged uncertainties it may or may not bring to our lives or the lessons we are to learn from a lockdown which we couldn’t or haven’t been able to all our living lives thus far.  Enough said about these I would assume by now, or at least for me.

At a time when I was searching for the most apt vignette to describe the troubles of the world, and the changes in my own surroundings – one show, one scene and one moment in an unassuming Netflix series moved me and moved me so immensely. The Spy, a miniseries which follows the life of a Mossad double agent, Eli Cohen, is one to watch. The series depicts how Cohen would take the offer to become a double agent for Mossad and assume the identity of Kamel Amin Thaabet, establishing himself in Syrian high society during the six day Israel-Syrian war in 1967. In a six-episode series, it was the final scene which started and ended the series that moved me so deeply.

Cohen would ultimately be caught by the Syrian counterintelligence whilst sending codified messages to Mossad and would later be sentenced to death by hanging. The movie begins and ends with the Rabbi meeting Cohen in his cell to read him his last rights. Cohen had written a letter to his long suffering wife in Israel and would at that point before the Rabbi struggle to sign off the letter to his wife as he struggled with who he really was in the end – Eli Cohen (the real person) or Kamel Amin Thaabet (the spy). He struggles between the person he may or may not know he was, and the charades that formed him and the masks he wore to that point.  

On a personal level, this one scene explained the many ails glaring at us today. A world that is fast being decimated of compassion and accountability. A world where integrity and governance have become great placards for brochures and speeches, but simply not understood by the highest echelons in public and private sectors alike. A world where we are all driven by agendas, trade-offs and quid pro quos. A world where selling your soul to the devil can be done without batting an eye-lid. A world where charades, games and masks are the main props of the day. Simply put a world driven by managing and feeding our beastly lusts whilst we sleepwalk through life itself.

In feeding this beast, we now live in a moment of extreme inequality, of political stasis and democratic erosion of our institutions and constitution. A moment where neoliberal economic models are fast becoming a farce even though we convince ourselves we need to be sustainably focused and move from shareholder return to stakeholder return.

Arnold J. Toynbee, who famously wrote the nine-volume book A Study of History, said that civilisations start to decay when they lose their moral fibre and the cultural elite turns parasitic, exploiting the masses and creating an internal and external proletariat. He emphasised the importance of spiritual dimension in shaping civilisations. Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 21 civilisations and amongst others concluded civilisations fail when pride and hubris kicks in. Standard! We don’t need to be told this! And then we allow it to happen in our societies by way of silence of the elites, civil societies, legislatures, oversight bodies and the media by being selective in what we collectively choose to be issues of the day.

How did we get here?

How did we get to a point in 2020, where big and small governments, developed and developing democracies, listed and unlisted businesses are scrambling for masks and personal protections as the ultimate shield to saving lives? Where did all the healthcare focus go all these years? What did all the studies by big blue-chip companies focus on leaving the world ecstatic and panicked in the face of a crises? What were all the high level regional and international government meetings, smooching and trips focus on if not how to save the lives of the people they governed over? What were all the gold-gilded paychecks for chairmen and CEOs for, not forgetting company boards, if not how best they should serve humanity in good and trying times?

Seriously I wonder what did men and women of such high caliber in such high places focus on? Did they not think of scenario planning and foresight planning? Did they completely miss a possible pandemic scenario in their yearly management and board retreats, usually done in exclusive settings? Seriously, I find this immensely troubling, never mind difficult to stomach especially those who are entrusted to govern tax payers’ monies. Monies of the poor and those who literally live from hand to mouth. Not monies of those of have perfected the art of evading tax.

Seeing the world scuttle and scurry for face masks, personal protection equipment (PPE), hospital beds and ventilators makes lay persons like me think how can lives be lost for these inadequacies? Were those bequeathed to represent us not focusing on patient care when they presented a government budget for approval? Were they not focused on how to keep people healthy, rather than how many more hospitals and medical study trips to have because every day we are told most of the deaths are those with compromised immune systems. A virus is just wiping our civilisation. We wake up to deaths in the hundreds and thousands these days in developed democracies with Armageddon war ammunition and tonnes of cash. These numbers of deaths which are accustomed in places like Yemen or Syria or Iraq, or even Afghanistan is today happening in first world metropolitan cities that represent the nexus of our civilisation. If this isn’t baffling insanity, I really am not sure what is.

Having managed many crises for companies and organisation this much I have come to know – the true cracks of a system and policy can be seen in such unrefracted clarity in times of crises. This crisis in and of itself has brought to the fore the phony cult religion we have all come to embrace knowingly or unwillingly. A phony cult that continually convinces us that the best societies predicate on  unleashing money making peoples as fast as possible and in as much as possible, in every way possible, cutting every corner possible by way of exploiting people, exploiting the system, decimating democracies, underpaying if not evading taxes, degrading the environment, evading regulation, manipulating governments and then effacing it all by a noble philanthropical gesture by donating some of the spoils  in the name of saving the world.

In times of national crises especially, it really is easy to blame governments; blame their unworthiness and ineptness. But were we not in part or in whole complicit in the making of a government and the environment we live in? Were we not silent when international institutions kept saying our civil service is bloated and that we should defund government yet today we scramble for people to stand in the frontlines? Were we not silent when the independence of our institutions were being politicised and cut a swathe, and then wonder why we have unqualified people leading them and why there are pilferages and national deficits running into billions of dollars? Were we not silent when our regulators remained mum in the face of clear fiduciary failures of chairmen and CEOs, never mind boards, and then wonder why our country is perceived as corrupt? Were we not complicit when government staff are often disparaged and demeaned, and we created almost holy sites at the doors of the private sector as the standard bearers and yet today, it is the low-paying underfunded unappreciated unsung heroes in the civil service who are holding court, and holding the fort.

We are all complicit and that is a good place to start on coordinates.

We stand today in a post-modern era. An era where traditional leadership models are being dismantled, an era where governments are brutally scrutinised by the citizens and netizens, where integrity of regulators is questioned and the reliability of oversight bodies including that of media the fourth pillar of democracy and civil societies is being examined. It is post-modern in everything but name.

Malaysia flag

It is in this post-modern era that my own country of origin, Malaysia, needs to redefine its identity, for if it fails to do so it can remain a developing or recede to an underdeveloped nation in the very near future.. A very good friend of mine reminded me of a piece I wrote for this media just as the previous government, Pakatan Harapan (PH), took office defeating an incumbent after 61 years. In that piece I argued that real and lasting change cannot happen by just moving some furniture and reinstalling the old faces in new positions.

Firstly we need to stop outsourcing change to the very people who created the broken system. That would be fake change in its crudest form. Toynbee in his writings speaks of the importance of the creative minority. This is the group of people who are able to challenge the status quo. The creative minority, Toynbee argues are those able to decipher what ails the society, and produce solutions that work in order so that society and civilisation move to their next echelon of dignity – or growth, as we call it today. These people are beyond your standard technocrats. They understand human dimension, sociology, culture and, in essence, they build the very fundamentals and the fabric of a strong society. Malaysia is sorely lacking in this, the creative minority.

As in any war, and we are unflinchingly fighting an invisible war now, institutions and governments will be judged by what they did and didn’t do, as it has already started in the United Kingdom. This is the new face of stakeholder capitalism which confronts and accountably judges institutions and businesses on the good they did, what they hoarded and how they treated their own people and their stakeholders in times of national crises.

Even as we have effaced tremendous rates of poverty with remarkable achievements and advances in wealth, scientific progress, human longevity and quality of life, our organisations and institutions face crises of legitimacy as they have failed to uphold the implicit promise of their establishment. In the case of Malaysia, this particularly applies to its statutory bodies. A discussion on statutory bodies in Malaysia would warrant an entire report but suffice to say as they stand today, most if not all have outgrown the purpose of their inception. Further, the evolution of these bodies has not been on par with the evolution of corporate governance best practices, and to do so the regulations and acts under which they are formed need to be reviewed and amended by the executives and legislators. The previous administration, i.e. Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan), promised reforms in statutory bodies in their National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP), but this is now saddled by new developments in Malaysia.

In the final analysis, until and unless these reforms in political governance and our statutory bodies are earnestly addressed, until and unless we are able to detach and divorce politics of the day to independence of our institutions, until and  unless we are able to transparently and credibly appoint people in our institutions and tie these people to clear and transparent performance indicators, until and unless our regulators and oversight bodies as well as our media and civil societies act independent of the executives of the day – I am afraid we will leave behind a broken country, devoid of stability and soul for our children and grandchildren. We each risk the fate of being cursed by them in our absence.

We will each probably find our fates emulating Eli Cohen, having paraded and charaded for the circus of the day and then struggling to define who we really are in that final moment. But then again, the worth of our lives could be defined by that one stand on one meager issue which we took undauntingly, when everyone else just sat by during a rodeo show! Only the state of our conscience can decide which sign off we will choose.

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Investvine contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

See her full channel Ethics in Business.



Support ASEAN news

Investvine has been a consistent voice in ASEAN news for more than a decade. From breaking news to exclusive interviews with key ASEAN leaders, we have brought you factual and engaging reports – the stories that matter, free of charge.

Like many news organisations, we are striving to survive in an age of reduced advertising and biased journalism. Our mission is to rise above today’s challenges and chart tomorrow’s world with clear, dependable reporting.

Support us now with a donation of your choosing. Your contribution will help us shine a light on important ASEAN stories, reach more people and lift the manifold voices of this dynamic, influential region.

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Donation Total: $10.00

 

 

By Firoz Abdul Hamid So like many, Netflix and Amazon Prime has taken a somewhat off-center stage (thankfully not center) in my life too during the Covid-19 lockdown. And as a quick disclaimer, let me assure you this isn’t an article on Covid-19, the alleged uncertainties it may or may not bring to our lives or the lessons we are to learn from a lockdown which we couldn’t or haven’t been able to all our living lives thus far.  Enough said about these I would assume by now, or at least for me. At a time when I was searching...

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

So like many, Netflix and Amazon Prime has taken a somewhat off-center stage (thankfully not center) in my life too during the Covid-19 lockdown. And as a quick disclaimer, let me assure you this isn’t an article on Covid-19, the alleged uncertainties it may or may not bring to our lives or the lessons we are to learn from a lockdown which we couldn’t or haven’t been able to all our living lives thus far.  Enough said about these I would assume by now, or at least for me.

At a time when I was searching for the most apt vignette to describe the troubles of the world, and the changes in my own surroundings – one show, one scene and one moment in an unassuming Netflix series moved me and moved me so immensely. The Spy, a miniseries which follows the life of a Mossad double agent, Eli Cohen, is one to watch. The series depicts how Cohen would take the offer to become a double agent for Mossad and assume the identity of Kamel Amin Thaabet, establishing himself in Syrian high society during the six day Israel-Syrian war in 1967. In a six-episode series, it was the final scene which started and ended the series that moved me so deeply.

Cohen would ultimately be caught by the Syrian counterintelligence whilst sending codified messages to Mossad and would later be sentenced to death by hanging. The movie begins and ends with the Rabbi meeting Cohen in his cell to read him his last rights. Cohen had written a letter to his long suffering wife in Israel and would at that point before the Rabbi struggle to sign off the letter to his wife as he struggled with who he really was in the end – Eli Cohen (the real person) or Kamel Amin Thaabet (the spy). He struggles between the person he may or may not know he was, and the charades that formed him and the masks he wore to that point.  

On a personal level, this one scene explained the many ails glaring at us today. A world that is fast being decimated of compassion and accountability. A world where integrity and governance have become great placards for brochures and speeches, but simply not understood by the highest echelons in public and private sectors alike. A world where we are all driven by agendas, trade-offs and quid pro quos. A world where selling your soul to the devil can be done without batting an eye-lid. A world where charades, games and masks are the main props of the day. Simply put a world driven by managing and feeding our beastly lusts whilst we sleepwalk through life itself.

In feeding this beast, we now live in a moment of extreme inequality, of political stasis and democratic erosion of our institutions and constitution. A moment where neoliberal economic models are fast becoming a farce even though we convince ourselves we need to be sustainably focused and move from shareholder return to stakeholder return.

Arnold J. Toynbee, who famously wrote the nine-volume book A Study of History, said that civilisations start to decay when they lose their moral fibre and the cultural elite turns parasitic, exploiting the masses and creating an internal and external proletariat. He emphasised the importance of spiritual dimension in shaping civilisations. Toynbee studied the rise and fall of 21 civilisations and amongst others concluded civilisations fail when pride and hubris kicks in. Standard! We don’t need to be told this! And then we allow it to happen in our societies by way of silence of the elites, civil societies, legislatures, oversight bodies and the media by being selective in what we collectively choose to be issues of the day.

How did we get here?

How did we get to a point in 2020, where big and small governments, developed and developing democracies, listed and unlisted businesses are scrambling for masks and personal protections as the ultimate shield to saving lives? Where did all the healthcare focus go all these years? What did all the studies by big blue-chip companies focus on leaving the world ecstatic and panicked in the face of a crises? What were all the high level regional and international government meetings, smooching and trips focus on if not how to save the lives of the people they governed over? What were all the gold-gilded paychecks for chairmen and CEOs for, not forgetting company boards, if not how best they should serve humanity in good and trying times?

Seriously I wonder what did men and women of such high caliber in such high places focus on? Did they not think of scenario planning and foresight planning? Did they completely miss a possible pandemic scenario in their yearly management and board retreats, usually done in exclusive settings? Seriously, I find this immensely troubling, never mind difficult to stomach especially those who are entrusted to govern tax payers’ monies. Monies of the poor and those who literally live from hand to mouth. Not monies of those of have perfected the art of evading tax.

Seeing the world scuttle and scurry for face masks, personal protection equipment (PPE), hospital beds and ventilators makes lay persons like me think how can lives be lost for these inadequacies? Were those bequeathed to represent us not focusing on patient care when they presented a government budget for approval? Were they not focused on how to keep people healthy, rather than how many more hospitals and medical study trips to have because every day we are told most of the deaths are those with compromised immune systems. A virus is just wiping our civilisation. We wake up to deaths in the hundreds and thousands these days in developed democracies with Armageddon war ammunition and tonnes of cash. These numbers of deaths which are accustomed in places like Yemen or Syria or Iraq, or even Afghanistan is today happening in first world metropolitan cities that represent the nexus of our civilisation. If this isn’t baffling insanity, I really am not sure what is.

Having managed many crises for companies and organisation this much I have come to know – the true cracks of a system and policy can be seen in such unrefracted clarity in times of crises. This crisis in and of itself has brought to the fore the phony cult religion we have all come to embrace knowingly or unwillingly. A phony cult that continually convinces us that the best societies predicate on  unleashing money making peoples as fast as possible and in as much as possible, in every way possible, cutting every corner possible by way of exploiting people, exploiting the system, decimating democracies, underpaying if not evading taxes, degrading the environment, evading regulation, manipulating governments and then effacing it all by a noble philanthropical gesture by donating some of the spoils  in the name of saving the world.

In times of national crises especially, it really is easy to blame governments; blame their unworthiness and ineptness. But were we not in part or in whole complicit in the making of a government and the environment we live in? Were we not silent when international institutions kept saying our civil service is bloated and that we should defund government yet today we scramble for people to stand in the frontlines? Were we not silent when the independence of our institutions were being politicised and cut a swathe, and then wonder why we have unqualified people leading them and why there are pilferages and national deficits running into billions of dollars? Were we not silent when our regulators remained mum in the face of clear fiduciary failures of chairmen and CEOs, never mind boards, and then wonder why our country is perceived as corrupt? Were we not complicit when government staff are often disparaged and demeaned, and we created almost holy sites at the doors of the private sector as the standard bearers and yet today, it is the low-paying underfunded unappreciated unsung heroes in the civil service who are holding court, and holding the fort.

We are all complicit and that is a good place to start on coordinates.

We stand today in a post-modern era. An era where traditional leadership models are being dismantled, an era where governments are brutally scrutinised by the citizens and netizens, where integrity of regulators is questioned and the reliability of oversight bodies including that of media the fourth pillar of democracy and civil societies is being examined. It is post-modern in everything but name.

Malaysia flag

It is in this post-modern era that my own country of origin, Malaysia, needs to redefine its identity, for if it fails to do so it can remain a developing or recede to an underdeveloped nation in the very near future.. A very good friend of mine reminded me of a piece I wrote for this media just as the previous government, Pakatan Harapan (PH), took office defeating an incumbent after 61 years. In that piece I argued that real and lasting change cannot happen by just moving some furniture and reinstalling the old faces in new positions.

Firstly we need to stop outsourcing change to the very people who created the broken system. That would be fake change in its crudest form. Toynbee in his writings speaks of the importance of the creative minority. This is the group of people who are able to challenge the status quo. The creative minority, Toynbee argues are those able to decipher what ails the society, and produce solutions that work in order so that society and civilisation move to their next echelon of dignity – or growth, as we call it today. These people are beyond your standard technocrats. They understand human dimension, sociology, culture and, in essence, they build the very fundamentals and the fabric of a strong society. Malaysia is sorely lacking in this, the creative minority.

As in any war, and we are unflinchingly fighting an invisible war now, institutions and governments will be judged by what they did and didn’t do, as it has already started in the United Kingdom. This is the new face of stakeholder capitalism which confronts and accountably judges institutions and businesses on the good they did, what they hoarded and how they treated their own people and their stakeholders in times of national crises.

Even as we have effaced tremendous rates of poverty with remarkable achievements and advances in wealth, scientific progress, human longevity and quality of life, our organisations and institutions face crises of legitimacy as they have failed to uphold the implicit promise of their establishment. In the case of Malaysia, this particularly applies to its statutory bodies. A discussion on statutory bodies in Malaysia would warrant an entire report but suffice to say as they stand today, most if not all have outgrown the purpose of their inception. Further, the evolution of these bodies has not been on par with the evolution of corporate governance best practices, and to do so the regulations and acts under which they are formed need to be reviewed and amended by the executives and legislators. The previous administration, i.e. Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan), promised reforms in statutory bodies in their National Anti-Corruption Plan (NACP), but this is now saddled by new developments in Malaysia.

In the final analysis, until and unless these reforms in political governance and our statutory bodies are earnestly addressed, until and unless we are able to detach and divorce politics of the day to independence of our institutions, until and  unless we are able to transparently and credibly appoint people in our institutions and tie these people to clear and transparent performance indicators, until and unless our regulators and oversight bodies as well as our media and civil societies act independent of the executives of the day – I am afraid we will leave behind a broken country, devoid of stability and soul for our children and grandchildren. We each risk the fate of being cursed by them in our absence.

We will each probably find our fates emulating Eli Cohen, having paraded and charaded for the circus of the day and then struggling to define who we really are in that final moment. But then again, the worth of our lives could be defined by that one stand on one meager issue which we took undauntingly, when everyone else just sat by during a rodeo show! Only the state of our conscience can decide which sign off we will choose.

(Firoz Abdul Hamid is an Investvine contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

See her full channel Ethics in Business.



Support ASEAN news

Investvine has been a consistent voice in ASEAN news for more than a decade. From breaking news to exclusive interviews with key ASEAN leaders, we have brought you factual and engaging reports – the stories that matter, free of charge.

Like many news organisations, we are striving to survive in an age of reduced advertising and biased journalism. Our mission is to rise above today’s challenges and chart tomorrow’s world with clear, dependable reporting.

Support us now with a donation of your choosing. Your contribution will help us shine a light on important ASEAN stories, reach more people and lift the manifold voices of this dynamic, influential region.

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $10.00

 

 

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