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Skating on ethical grounds

Possibly the biggest controversy to hit the recent Winter Olympics was the judging in the women's figure skating competition. Adlina Sotnikova of Russia, who was practically tied with Kim Yu-na of South Korea, powered ahead in the free skate to win the gold medal - despite stumbling while coming out from one of her jumps.

More detailed analysis of the scores revealed incongruities. One of the judges had given the Russian skater significantly higher marks. And then we learn one of the Russian judges, who is married to the president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, was happily hugging the gold medallist backstage after the event.

Well, it looks like a conspiracy ...

This reminds me of my experience in various government tenders, where even before results are announced there is much talk of who is already going to win because of how much "cable" they have with certain people...

Given that kind of thinking, I wonder if that is why some companies send in proposals with spelling and grammatical errors. After all, why bother doing your best when the system is corrupt?

According to KPMG's Fraud, Bribery and Corruption Survey 2013, 90 per cent of respondents believed that "bribery and corruption are major concerns for Malaysian businesses generally", but 71 per cent also stated that "bribery and corruption remain an inevitable cost of doing business".

We know it is wrong, but it still happens. I appreciate that there are perhaps grey areas. Something you are doing might be technically dubious, but the benefits in return to the company and your customers are undoubtedly positive, so where do you draw the line? I was recently told about a simple test for integrity: if you hold a practice out in the light, does it still look clean? If the public sees what you are doing, does your reputation stay intact?

Indeed, the risk of condoning corrupt practices is that your reputation as a company will drop when you are found out - and reputation matters as much as anything else when it comes to your customers.

Edelman, the world's largest privately owned PR company, runs an annual "trust barometer" survey. Their 2011 report states that while 69 per cent of those they surveyed say a company's reputation is based on the high quality of its products, 65 per cent also say that it must be a "company I can trust", and the same number also say it must conduct "transparent and honest business practices".

Perhaps doing the right thing is hard. But I want to suggest that people do it. Doing something illegal may not strike many as being unethical. There is a paradox in Malaysia that authority is generally acceded to, but once that authority is removed, there is a brazen willingness to circumvent laws and rules.

I am thinking both of everyday misdemeanours, such as double-parking or selling illegal DVDs, to more corrupt practices in business, such as trying to influence the award of potential contracts with gift-giving or junkets.

So, even when you do something right and are successful, the underlying perception may be that you must have done something wrong to get there. Every government contract is awarded because of cronyism, they claim, so every rejected bid must be because they weren't corrupt.

If Malaysian practices were more transparent about how they did business, perhaps it would be easier for the public to accept their integrity. It seems to me many Malaysians think we are doing business on thin ice and proceed cautiously, afraid that at any point it will break through and expose its dirty underbelly. But if the ice were transparent enough so that we could see right through it, we could better understand where the weaknesses are and proceed with more confidence.


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