Corruption and loss of moral fibre

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Lehloenya Mahao

Lehloenya Mahao

IN recent years, Lesotho has slumped in international indices of development. One of the major sources of this decline is corruption. Incidentally, those who conveniently decided to avoid this reality also blamed the country’s economic decline on world economic decline. These are the same people who repeatedly overemphasise the sovereignty of the Lesotho state politically. Why they delink Lesotho’s interdependence with the whole world from all other sectors of life is anyone’s guess. The crux of the matter is that concepts are often used conveniently to serve personal and group interests.

Incidentally, practice has shown that corruption is rife within the agencies that are supposed to fight it in Lesotho.  Its spread starts from the highest echelons of the government, its ministries, some civil servants, security organs and lately the judiciary. The backdrop of this is the worsening morality among those who are expected to perform their duties with integrity, dignity and commitment. This has affected our value system at work and it is permeating and rupturing the whole moral fibre of our society.

Presently, it has taken yet another manifestation. Political parties are mushrooming as if we are in a state of competing for formation of institutions that will invent new ideas for development; whereas on the contrary it is a naked contest over apportioning of the meagre state resources. Immorality has become so glorified and yet so cynical that it is now considered “sensible and logical” for someone to claim that he formed a new political party because he strives to be a party leader too or a prime minister. Where are the people’s interests in this? This corrupt tendency is so glaring that probably if a person could be asked to mention the most profuse resource in Lesotho the likelihood is that he may say it is forming a political party. Indeed for Basotho the word resource has lost its meaning to an extent that it means anything that can be used for personal gains irrespective of its implications for the rest of the society.

About a decade or so ago, it sounded like a fairy tale to an average Mosotho to hear a foreigner, after staying a couple of years in Lagos, claim that corruption in Nigeria was so rife that it is was viewed as being in the blood of every Nigerian. Therefore, to get rid of corruption one simply has to squeeze blood out of all Nigerians. Similarly, it was also another tale to hear that in Mozambique having an air ticket did not give the passenger a boarding guarantee unless he showed some “interest of boarding”, by paying a bribe. By then, Basotho would mock these incidences as behaviour of Black Africa as if Lesotho was another European country accidentally found in Africa. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before our nation was also caught in the web of comparable immorality. However, the incident below shows that morality and corruption are conscious decisions.

In August, 2014 some elements of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) attacked some police stations in the capital Maseru, killing a senior on-duty police officer. Many high-ranking police officers skipped the country and resided temporarily in the Republic of South Africa (RSA). The police force was temporarily rendered un-operational.

Ironically, during this watershed period there were no reported cases of citizen lawlessness. One wonders why there was this remarkable decline in law braking. Do people break laws so that police become engaged? Here, even minor incidents were sorted out by ordinary people involved and life continued with relatively greater harmony than under the watchful eye of the police. This was indicative of a conscious decision of society to take its fate in its hands, to do the right things.

Strangely, procedures for these high moral standards were not written anywhere or declared by anybody for the people to follow, but society knew what was supposed to happen without any law enforcement intervention. Every person felt a moral obligation to do the right thing. Paradoxically, immediately thereafter when the police force resumed duty some people did not waste any time, the rate of law breaking incidents rapidly increased again. Among such incidents were road offenders risking paying bribes to the traffic police.

What motivates corruption and moral decay?

The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci once observed that the state uses all institutions (police, army, judiciary and parliament) that help to create in people (society) certain modes of behaviour and expectations consistent with the hegemonic (roughly, behaviour-dominating) social order, in this context corruption. Echoing Gramsci, Ian Tailor proposed that hegemony was a moment in which a certain way of life and thought was dominant, a grasp of reality diffused throughout society in all its institutional and private manifestations informing with its spirit all tastes, morality, customs, religious and political principles, all social relations, particularly in their intellectual and moral connotations. It would be ignorance of reality to deny that, perhaps by comparable processes, presently corruption has filtered through all aspects of Lesotho’s society as argued above.

How did our society get here? Normally, the highest echelon of power dictates the dimensions and the direction of ethical behaviour, as the saying goes – a fish rots from the head first. The following case reinforces and validates this perception: In one interview before the 2012 elections, the prime minister was once asked how it came that his children occupied a number of leading positions in the public service. His response was that he had sent his children to school, in fact one of them was head-hunted for one of those positions.

A prudent question would have followed; what does it take for someone‘s children to occupy more than three chief executive’s positions in government; what kind of skills, competencies, and special qualifications do they have? Considering Lesotho’s small population with extremely limited employment opportunities, can this response be expected from a person at the helm of the state? If this is a convincing response from someone in an office that  is supposed to represent the highest role model of moral esteem of the society, then what is wrong with an ordinary citizen who has heard this sort of response in saying – where will the street cleaner work if we don’t make streets filthy? This is where a dominant mode of social values emanates from. People learn from, and emulate the role model.

Ironically and consciously too, human beings copy not only what is right but more than often what is potentially immoral. However, coping is determined by their relationship with power. Where power, rules, regulations or laws are felt foreign to society and far-fetched chances are that people will copy what is negative and less so what is ethical; particularly when they feel that these rules do not apply indiscriminately.  This explains the conscious decision taken by the society both when the police were inactive at the end of August 2014, and change of that behaviour thereafter.

In a nutshell, it is imperative to note that corruption is not a need-driven phenomenon considering the fact that largely people involved are either well-off or they can survive with what they have; or where a need arises they can afford to be patient and wait for the right thing to happen instead of taking shortcuts. On the contrary, corruption is rather greed-driven, propelled by selfishness, it is immoral and a sign of social decay. When it has become the core of how things should be done, some people believe that it is almost impossible to root it out as is the case given about Nigeria above. But on the contrary the 2014 events prove otherwise.

This is evidence that loss of moral uprightness is a conscious decision taken by human beings as indicative of their living conditions. This ethical perception is not written (like in the case of laws, rules and regulations) but construed by the society as the relevant way of living directly interlinked with the general conditions under which society lives. Therefore, this perception draws the following equilibrium that: in order to compose, entrench and sustain high ethical standards, relatively equal standards of living are critical, and on the contrary low moral conditions which lead to low ethical attitude and social decay, might need extreme inequality and wealth distribution to sustain. s

Lastly, leadership is an integral part of responsible ethical behaviour as it sets standards. There is also a correlation and an interchange between an individual, leadership and the collective – society. This interdependency is critical for the welfare and ethics of any society.

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