The state of ethics vs. Jamaican law

A friend and colleague of mine, Keisha McKenzie, is spending time at home in Jamaica this summer but apparently is not taking time off as an ethicist. She seems to have taken issue with this article on the state of ethics vs. Jamaican law, which appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner:

The Jamaican people are now aware that corruption is rampant in high places. Scandal after scandal is exposed in the media but the political apologies, quick to limit wrongdoing to what is defined in law, rationalise away the ethical element by claiming that there is no corruption unless it can be proved that the act resulted in unjust enrichment, conveniently forgetting the benefit that might accrue to party or comrade.

It is high time that we stop trying to deal with corruption in purely legal terms. The Prime Minister’s recent call for the development of a code of conduct to address corrupt officials in the public sector may be a long overdue step in the right direction, especially his instructions that every ministry and agency should appoint a senior officer who would have responsibility for monitoring the ethical behaviour of staff.

Keisha retorts in this letter to The Gleaner:

Nobody should ever defer his/her thinking-about-ethics (and, hence, his/her accountability) to an ‘ethics expert.’ Let every bucket stand on its own bottom: private citizens and public officials must accept full responsibility for their own ethical or unethical reasoning and behaviour. Employing ethics experts or relying on periodic workplace training is an insufficient response to ‘rampant corruption’ unless individual employees also integrate strong ethical principles into their personal and business practices.

One won’t learn to drive by yielding the steering wheel to someone else, however knowledgeable or well-meaning that substitute is. In the same way, ethics cannot appropriately be legislated by the government or delegated to company monitors. Ethics flow from the bottom up, not from the top down; we must all develop ethical sensitivities and habits individually. If, however, we each cede our ethical authority to ‘professional ethicians,’ unfortunate excuses like ‘the expert made me do it’ won’t be long in coming.

Well said, Keisha. Ethics cannot only be legislated, it must happen at a much more smaller, organic and self-deliberating level. When Keisha returns to Texas, I look forward to picking up on some of our discussions pertaining to the state of ethics in Technical Communication.

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