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State—a moral person?

Huzaima Bukhari

“When there is a lack of honor in government, the morals of the whole people are poisoned”―Herbert Hoover

When Joseph Conrad said that the belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary as men alone are quite capable of every wickedness, he was not really wrong. Many times culprits and criminals while admitting their felonies often claim being overcome by shaitan (satan) in their wrongdoings as if they were innocent but urged on by some paranormal force. This could be a tactics to reduce the intensity of their crimes but the fact remains that they are immoral to the core having no regard for law or those who become their victims. It is quite easy to place the blame of one’s own misdoings on others but difficult to restrain one’s outbursts of negative emotions.

When a person commits a crime, the parents and later on the teachers are usually accused of raising a delinquent. This is a sad situation as basically no one really desires to be ill-reputed. How distraught was the mother of Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 persons in the afternoon of July 22, 2011. She did not instigate him to perform this gruesome act but cannot deny that she gave birth to him. The same feelings would be shared by all those mothers and fathers whose offspring are involved in iniquitous activities yet they cannot be fully absolved of some or more responsibility. Whatever psychosis breeds in the minds of miscreants the fact is that the sufferers are innocent and unsuspecting common people whose lives and that of their loved ones get totally jolted at their hands.

Just as the head of a family is liable for the activities of his relatives in the same way the government too is responsible for the character of the nation. The upbringing of children is dependent upon the moral values that are inculcated in them by the elders. Where faulty guidance is provided regarding observance of rule of law, ethical standards, tolerance, empathy and mutual respect then the result would obviously be in the form of unruly, ill-mannered, immoral, apathetic and disrespectful children especially when they fail to see their elders behaving in exemplary style. Characters of polished families (regardless of their social status and wealth) reflect in their attitude and their behavior in public. Their existence is a source of blessing for those with whom they come in contact whereas ones who are uncouth cause nothing but misery on a minor scale that may escalate into bigger and uglier circumstances

Monsieur de Vattel (1714-1767), a French jurist, rightfully or wrongly, declared in his famous treatise “Law of the Nations” that a political society is a moral person as it has an understanding and a will which it uses to conduct its affairs and exercises obligations and rights therefore when people choose leaders, they are actually empowering them with all these characteristics to the extent of administration of the state and public authority. In other words, the state becomes custodian of the people’s will and thus is laid the foundation of a moral person. “….nothing sheds a greater lustre on it (leader), since the monarch thus unites in his own person all the majesty that belongs to the entire body of the nation.”

According to a paper,Coping With Administrative Corruption – An Academic Perspective, corruption, attributed to bad men and bad laws, has direct financial costs and inflicts incalculable social and economic damage. The sore points are antiquated laws intended to govern social activities which must not concern the government, the involvement of which in “business and its bureaucratization have encouraged corrupt activities as have excessive discretion in public decision making and lack of accountability.”

The authors, G E Caiden; N J Caiden suggest; “The government should remove undesirable social controls which interfere with peoples’ personal lives, revise the laws, reduce public monopolies, and force government agencies to report on their activities. Since much administrative corruption stems from political corruption, all government activities should be conducted in an open and accountable manner. A professional civil service and regular administrative procedures also inhibit corruption. Special measures to combat corruption include developing manuals which provide guidelines for detecting and reporting irregular practices, conducting inspections, prosecuting offenders, and applying reasonable penalties.”

In 2003, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption included a public service code vital to prevention of this malaise through transparency and accountability in matters of public services where recruitment should be based on merit and subjected to strict accountability. It further emphasises: “Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements are established for the prevention of corruption, in the particularly critical areas of the public sector, such as the judiciary and public procurement.” These institutional codes would define a professional model not only as we see ourselves but the way we want to be seen by others.

In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith writes: “Therefore, successful codes provide a standard for public servants to strive for as well as articulating a special sense of responsibility because of the public servants professional standing in his or her community. The value of ethics codes comes from both cognitive (reasoning) demands in understanding such codes as well as its ability to appeal to the emotions.”

With so much stress on morality and ethics in governance one thing is absolutely ascertainable. When the public openly defies writ of the government and acts reprehensibly as in the case of lynching and killing of Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan national and general manager in a factory in Sialkot, somewhere along the line, signs of foul stench of moral turpitude within the ranks and files of government become visible. Societies that fail to address these deformities are destined to become extinct within no time as these vices can be likened to a self-inflicted nuclear explosion. With all these indications of warnings, if nothing concrete is undertaken soon then our nation has set itself on the suicidal path of destruction.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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