The road to a safe, secure and prosperous Virgin Islands is honest and accountable governance. Recently, there has been a lot of talk by the media and others on the virtues — or the lack of virtue — of the United Kingdom holding a legal instrument that could suspend the territory’s Constitution if the VI government refuses to stick to its commitment to fully adopt the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.
The reality is that the territory would not have been in this unpredictable and unstable place had the virtues of honesty and integrity in governance and society been coveted and pursued with rigour, vigour and enthusiasm in past decades.
Honesty in society is both virtue and culture. Honesty is a way of life.
The world’s most famous investor, Warren Buffet, has stated that in assessing a business partner or employee the most important factor is the honesty of the person. In his own words, “A person may have talent, but if that person is dishonest then all the talent is meaningless. On the other hand, a far less gifted person that is honest is of much more use to the organisation.”
A ‘national trait’
Honesty is both an individual and national trait. It is crucial to good governance. It begins at the grassroots, in the family.
Honesty is moulded into the child by parents, and then by the wider community and school and by adults who themselves have been properly socialised, spreading the virtues of honesty to the wider society. Conversely, dishonesty is learned. Honesty is the grease that oils the engine of a wholesome, successful and prosperous society.
One caveat is that the measure of religiosity is not a measure for honesty. Religion appears to have zero influence on morality and honesty in the present day. In fact, nonreligious societies appear more honest and sincere than religious ones. The reason for that is a mystery: It may have to do with the material orientation of much of modern-day religion, especially in the evangelical faith. Pious behaviour is not honesty. Religion has been a cover for all manner of evil for centuries.
‘Law and integrity’
Honest societies covet the rule of law and integrity and pursue these values with effort, exactness and diligence.
A simple comparison between countries described as relatively honest — like Singapore, northern European states, Canada, Australia and South Korea — and countries that have a reputation for dishonesty and corruption — such as Nigeria, Haiti, Russia, a number of sub-Saharan states and Mexico — reveals the vastly better quality of life of the more honest societies.
Countries with a culture of integrity and honesty get a bigger bang for the taxpayer buck. Every dollar invested goes directly into the social and economic infrastructure and public services, save for that part spent on administration and management.
On the other hand, where there is high incidence of conflict of interest, looting and corruption, a significant proportion of a contract— up to 70 percent in a country such as Nigeria — enters back pockets and secret accounts. This is public cash stolen, with the result that the quality of infrastructure and services is poor or even dangerous to the public.
In the end, any material gain by the population is an illusion.
As public cash for much-needed services is wasted and abused, there may appear to be an increase in the standard of living. But that increase is limited to specific public officials and their allies — and ultimately it is an illusion. The physical environment deteriorates as the quality of life of the middle classes and the most vulnerable diminishes.
Unwarranted poverty is a direct result of dishonest government.
In the long run, there is the realisation that a country or territory would have been far better off had honest leaders been in charge of the cookie jar — and not the proverbial cookie monster.
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