Saturday, January 14, 2006

Whistling in the wind

Whistle-blowingOne of the expected consequence of the (old) NKF saga is a tightening of rules and oversight procedures in the affairs of institutions of public character, or more commonly known as charities. Governance issues have already been raised and addressed in the corporate sector for some time now, particularly since the Enron debacle through the Sarbannes-Oxley Act.

This is all well and good. People just should not go off and spend the millions given in good faith on any and everything that the charity thinks is justified. There must be regular accounting, not creative accounting that misleads the donors and stakeholders. That was what happened in the old NKF. However, there are some who are now suggesting that a process of 'whistle-blowing' - that of telling on the 'wrong' practices of an organisation or person in that organisation - should be institutionalised. The authorities have so far very wisely resisted this move. A whistle-blowing culture is a stifling culture. When is an action considered illicit? Who decides? What if someone, in all good faith, uses an unconventional way of bringing good to the organisation as a whole and in the process, benefiting the mission and purpose of that organisation? In a whistle-blowing culture, such unconventional practices will attract suspicion of wrong-doing, and the consequent blowing of the whistle. So somebody who is imaginative enough to do things differently will be penalised.

Whistle-blowing has a stifling effect on people and innovation. It supposes that there is only one way of doing things - the tried and tested, conventionally accepted way. It brooks no deviation. It will be the death of progress and improvement. We shouldn't swing from one extreme of unfettered excess to the other end of sterility and immobility.

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