( June 24, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Intriguing word, integrity. Encarta describes it as 'the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards.' Sometime ago, one of our columnists grappled with the word, trying to define its applicability in the context of day to day living, where entrusted power is abused for personal gain and glory, where transparency, accountability, responsibility and other related principles that define good governance are relegated as non-essentials and where bribery, corruption, nepotism and hypocrisy hold sway.
His predicament is understandable. How does an individual measure his sense of integrity in an environment where things are only almost but never quite? Moot point, but it brings up an interesting question; what's the status of our integrity as a nation? Breaking news and headline stories that make us question the moral values of those mandated to represent us in Parliament and in local bodies, and those tasked with serving and protecting us, do not portend positively.
Elsewhere in these pages, a colleague lists out the reprehensible incidents of recent times that indicate how far and fast ethical standards, moral values and sheer decency have plummeted.
A Provincial Councillor, deeming himself and his family beyond reproach by virtue of his affiliation with the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), verbally abuses, threatens and humiliates a teacher for daring to discipline his daughter. A Deputy Inspector General of Police, once in charge of the Colombo Crimes Division and deemed very powerful due to his connections with the ruling hierarchy, is arrested, along with several policemen working under him, in connection with the abduction and murder of a Colombo based businessman. Rumour abounds about his complicity in a multitude of criminal acts that also includes extortion, intimidation and a series of murders. A District Judge is arrested for allegedly taking a bribe. A parliamentarian lies outright using the Parliamentary Privilege as his protective gear.
These are but a few instances of how those mandated to represent us, hoping to receive the mandate to serve us and those tasked with ensuring our safety and security, abuse their position and the trust placed in them for personal pride and monetary gain. This disregard for issues like honesty, transparency, accountability, ethical conduct, morality and basic decency, gets magnified into national issues when the government soft peddles serious issues, allows rogues and crooks to go scot free, covers up criminal action, and looks the other way when rules are bent and laws are broken. It then tops these transgressions by promoting family and friends to higher places, covering up bad economic decisions with high taxes, and forcing the public to pay for its mistakes with the ever-increasing cost of living.
These acts of omissions and commissions by the State actors are reflected in the overall degeneration of society's moral values. We see undergrads responding to rejection with bloody knife attacks, students responding to legitimate questioning with physical assault, and beggars having millions in their bank accounts.
As much as integrity is about issues like honesty (a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way), honour (which suggests an active or anxious regard for the standards of one's profession, calling, or position), Probity (tried and proven honesty or truthfulness) and incorruptibility (trustworthiness and truthfulness to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility or pledge and incapable of being bribed or morally corrupted), it is also about good governance, which in turn reflects how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources in order to guarantee the realization of human rights.
So what is the status of our integrity as a nation? Where does Sri Lanka stand with regard to the principles of integrity; where do our political parties stand; where do our public sector and private sector stand and significantly where do we as individuals stand? As we ponder this, it's worth reflecting on the antonym of integrity, which is hypocrisy and ask ourselves the question, are we turning into hypocrites?
- Source: Ceylon Today