The resignation of the 32 years old US Congresswoman- Katie Hill- on October 27th, 2019 after she was accused of improper relationship with staffers, sparked mixed reactions from the American populace and the world. To most of her supporters it was not necessary since it was ‘a small personal matter’ hence she could continue to stay in office and defend herself before the House Ethics Committee. While others viewed her actions as a requirement for taking moral responsibility necessary for her to fight for her name outside the public office. In her resignation, the Congresswoman stated that it was the best decision so as not to subject herself and her supporters to ridicule for serving them under such heavy allegations. More stunning was the resignation of the UK Minister for the Department of International Development, Lord Bate, for turning up some few minutes late for a parliamentary session to answer questions from members. He stated that his actions were ‘discourteous’ and he was ‘thoroughly ashamed’ of himself. The UK PM turned down his resignation later.
The two examples, though different in contexts, illustrate the high threshold of ethical standards with which persons in public office must always hold themselves. The mere fact that they felt ashamed to hold their positions is an indication of people who are alive to the heavy duty and responsibility of the office. As earlier mentioned, the two could have still stayed in office or defend themselves in any process to have them out just like many persons in such positions would have done; or they could even swear “to die than resign” like ‘some’ of the Kenyan leaders. However, they opted to stay out driven by their conscience and with great regard to positions they held. It is a clear demonstration of the ideals of leadership; that public position is only important when the people feel your conducts and services are compatible with the high calling.
Ethics, in simple terms, is understood to rest on two legs; first, the ability to know the right from the wrong, and Second, is the commitment to do that which is right. Most people are able to achieve the first limb; however, second limb dictates the biggest difference. Personal integrity is the nucleus of an ethical culture commonly identified with the values of honesty and consistency in character. It is therefore, behavior that is intrinsically determined. Kohlberg’s Stages of moral development explains that the highest level of moral development, at adulthood, is based on principles that transcend mutual benefits and he calls it universal principles. The person should endeavor to do that which inspires trust, confidence and respect among the people. The lowest level which is that of a child is characterized by self-centeredness. Therefore, learning from Kohlberg’s theory any leader who is motivated by the self-fish drives and ego explicit the character known to a child in the eyes of the public.
What shapes our ethical compass?
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, in an interview with Duke University explained that his major sources of ethical compass as: first the parents and the way he was parented and the second the people around him; the collection of people who influence him at your work place and in society. Research has also established that there are four important institutions that shape the ethical behavior of an individual: the parenting, the schooling, the community and the work place or the professional affiliation. The most important is the society which carries a lasting impression on the ethical compass of the individual.
The shifts to ethical south as a society can also be attributed to the breakup and destruction of the different stages of ethical developments. At family level parents are required to imbibe these values from young age. The values of sharing, honesty among others are important building blocks of the child’s ethical behavior. Our schooling too is a microcosm of the society. It is imperative to introduce integration of character education in our schooling systems. The professional life also defines where someone practices his/her skills and makes earnings. Our professional bodies should strongly stand for what they have in paper as their core values and guiding principles. Strong professional institutions that espouse strict ethical values are bedrocks of ethical leadership since they inspire confidence and respect from the public. Lastly, the biggest problem has been the ethical conducts of the persons in leadership. This has been the talk in every street, hamlet and village. The challenges are wider and deep since these leaders reflect the kind of people that they represent; the ‘Kenyan’ society.
In the Kenyan Laws
The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 has outstanding provisions on the requirement of ethical standards in leadership. At its very beginning, Article 1 underscores the sovereignty of the people and that powers exercised by person in public offices are donated to them by the people and should be exercised to serve the best interest of the people. Legal commentator and scholars single out inter alia the provisions of Chapter six on Leadership and Integrity and Article 10 on the National Values and Principles of Governance as also key sections that set the bar for ethical leadership. The Constitution and laws are born of a background of long challenges in strong governance and poor public ethos characterized by abuse of power, impunity, negative ethnicity, cronyism, political patronage and senseless looting of public funds; the reasons why the cited sections were deliberately included into the supreme law.
The High Court in Trusted Society of Human Rights Alliance vs The Attorney General and Other, Petition No. 229 of 2012 and in the case of Benson Riitho Mureithi vs J.W. Wakhungu and 2 others emphasized the high standard of ethical and integrity requirement that should be subjected to any person seeking public office by the dint of Article 73 the Constitution. In both cases the court interpreted the underpinning spirit of the provisions to cure the mischief of having people with questions of integrity in public office. Justice Mumbi Ngugi’s ruling on the interpretation and enforcement of the provision of Chapter Six in Moses Lenolkulal case underscored the high standards with which the matter of integrity of persons holding public office was expected of. The courts pronouncement, though attracting a lot of criticism, was a breath to the life and force of the Article 73 which deals with the responsibilities of leadership. It contemplates that a person in public position should hold the office as public trust and exercise authority in a manner that is consistent with the purposes and objects of the Constitution; demonstrate respect for the people; and promotes public confidence in the integrity of the office. An in-depth appreciation of the said provisions will prod the conscience of every well-thinking person to question the appropriateness of holding a public office while under heavy accusation of abuse of the same office from the public
The way forward
The debate on whether ethical leadership is a necessity is not in contest, however, the discussion is how can we have or even make those in position to lead within the set standards? We need to interrogate more and ask the obvious question, when did the rain start beating us? We are not bystanders to real issues of poor leadership in our society. We cannot fake innocence of our own mistakes. It is imperative to note that the people in leadership are from the society we all live in. Therefore, first every individual has to make a personal reflection on how you contributed in putting that person of questionable integrity in leadership. Every parent, every professional body, every learning institution has in one way or another contributed in molding the behavior of the individual. The rot and the destructions of the values lie deeper in our wider society.
Secondly, the power of the people is formidable and nothing can stop people determined to change for the better. The power of the voters in every democratic society is to make decisions on who is to represent them in positions of influence. If that power is exercised judiciously and due regard is placed on the merit and integrity of the person than ethnic, regional or religious persuasions, then we will be confident of having leaders who understand the responsibilities of the positions they hold.
Thirdly, strong, independent and impartial institutions of oversight and accountability are requisite for a prosperous society. Not all people have these values and are intrinsically driven to insist in doing the right thing at all times. That is why such institutions as the Ombudsperson, the legislature, the judiciary, Constitutional Commissions and Independent offices have to be strengthened to make those in leadership account for their decisions and responsibilities.
Fourthly, independent and impartial media and civil society play pivotal role in governance of every society. These bodies have to continuously expose the ills within society and educate on the gains of having ethical culture. They can form pressure groups to put the duty bearers to task of any lapses in service delivery. Throughout the world such groups contribute to the changes within societies. Finally, the question that every Kenyan has to ask him/herself is how, in their small ways, can everyone of us contribute to a society that has and respects ethical values; where every person is confident that they can only be judged on merits and content of character; where every citizen can earn a living without paying a bribe; where everyone can have opportunities to lead without being judged on tribal standing and socio-economic background; and where every person in leadership truly understand the responsibilities of being people’s servant.