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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Morality, Ethics and not paying bribes : Lessons from Ratan Tata

Are you consistent in your behaviour ? Are you bold enough to speak out what you feel is right ? Can you even think of doing only the right thing and not indulge in politicizing issues ? Are you genuine to people and to Yourself ?  Do you feel bounded by the standards of behaviour that a civilized society accepts ? _ Qs and more Qs ~ the answers are not difficult and We all know what we are…… !!

The rights and wrongs are guided by the moral philosophy known as Ethics; a term derived from the Greek word ethos, which means "character". In philosophy, ethics studies the moral behavior in humans, and how one should act. Ethics may be divided into four major areas of study.  Though not singularly identified with religion, religion does preaches high ethical standards and provides intense motivations for ethical behavior.

There is also ‘Morality’ (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior")  ~ that of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong). An example of a moral code is the Golden Rule ~ "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.’

In Polity, there are the politicians – the administrators and the common public.  There is also the industrialists who create employment opportunities thus feeding large chunk of population though seeking their own profits.  In the late 1980s, when VP Singh was campaigning against Rajiv Gandhi on an  anti-corruption platform, he would frequently invoke an earthy metaphor to highlight the fact that the Congress government had covered all the bases of monumental corruption. The scams included defence, submarines, helicopters and more….  nothing much changed when the power centre changed is another.  The 2G rocked the Nation, Apex Court stepped in and cancelled 122  telecom licences issued by A Raja; there have varied valuations  on the losses to the exchequer  and  the unjust enrichment of some private individuals.  

While we blame the politicians for all the woes of the Nation, how many times would we act with ‘moral correctitude’ – not moving with the masses but standing right, even if it were to be alone !... Many of us would have remained honest in life [again that is to be seen in the backdrop of opportunities and threats] and will the same apply – in not abetting corruption or not paying bribes…… when corruption is the way of life, and when we have something to be done, we would not mind paying that extra to have the work done comfortably…………. Are we not contributing to corrupt practices that way !!!!

Here is an article read in First Post, which brings out the greatness of Ratan Tata and that of Tata Group; a worthy read certainly.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
5th Mar 2013.

“Lesson from Ratan Tata:
Can India Inc walk away from paying bribes?”

In 1995, in the first flush of the announcement of the government’s open-sky policy, the Tatas sought a licence to start what would then have been India’s largest airline, in collaboration with Singapore Airlines. But the plans never really took off, even after the Tatas secured approvals for the Rs 2,800 crore project from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board.

As happens when interacting with the government, even for a corporate group as high profile as the Tatas, hurdles kept cropping up to impede the project. Ratan Tata recalled years later that his group had approached three Prime Ministers – the mid-1990s saw frequent changes of unstable governments – but that “an individual” (whom he refused to identify) repeatedly thwarted the Tatas’ efforts to start an airline. At about the same time, Ratan Tata recalled, a fellow-industrialist whom he encountered on a flight suggested to him that he should consider paying off the Minister – who, he claimed, was angling for a bribe and creating hurdles – and starting up the airline. To which, Ratan Tata said he told the industrialist: “You will never understand this; I just want to go to bed at night knowing that I haven’t got the airline by paying for it’.”

The act of demanding (and giving) bribes is a tango dance that takes two to consummate. Tata later clarified that he had never been personally approached for a bribe, and his recollection of his conversation with the industrialist was merely a reflection of the other person’s reckoning that the (unnamed) Minister wanted a bribe. Even so, it serves to outline Ratan Tata’s noble philosophy in the abstract: that he would walk away rather than pay a bribe (if one had been demanded). Now in retirement, Ratan Tata is giving voice to the same sentiment and calling upon fellow-industrialists to walk away rather than winning deals by paying bribes.

In an interview to Tehelka magazine (which hasn’t yet been uploaded on the web edition, so we’re unable to provide a link), Tata reckons that it is time for industry leaders to introspect on whether they have become complicit in the perpetuation of corruption by being participants (even if unwilling participants) in corrupt deals. “The subjectivity of corruption or bribery has two levels,” Tata points out. “There is someone who … wants something, but there is also that person/organization that gives it…” That giver perhaps rationalises his action by claiming that he needs to bribe in order to facilitate his business. Industry leaders, he adds, must “ask ourselves if we are fuelling the system… (and) are providing for the success of the system.” Rather than blame the corrupt “system”, industry leaders should “make that ultimate sacrifice and say we will not succumb” even at the risk of losing a deal.

Unless industry leaders introspect on their role in perpetuating corruption, they run the risk that they may be perceived by the public as being hand-in-glove with the corrupt. “We may someday become the targets as people who fan corruption. That’s something we must be concerned about.” Perhaps there’s just too much riding on business success these days, but Tata’s high-minded voice of reason appears a trifle too idealistic in these times of unabashed ‘crony’ business deals. In fact, the Niira Radia tapes, which laid bare the shadowy goings-on at the intersection of business and politics, suggest that that moral pedestal may have been too high even for this distinguished captain of industry who hails from an old-world school. As corporate lobbyist Radia, who was gaming the political system to get A Raja in a Telecom Minister, acknowledged in one revealing taped conversation, “Mere client Tatas bhi bahut beneficiary thhe (in the 2G spectrum allocation).”

Ratan Tata claimed in subsequent media interactions that he could say “with my hand to my heart, that we have not, in fact, partaken in any clandestine activity.” Yet, the widespread perception, based on the extensive recordings and circumstantial evidence, is that the industrial groups had merely “outsourced” the dirty job of corporate lobbying – and everything that it entailed – in order to maintain deniability. Industry leaders may have themselves walked away from the scene of the crime, but the suspicion that their interests are still well-protected by their proxies lingers. Walking away from corrupt deals isn’t perhaps as easy as Tata makes it out to be.

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