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Influence peddling real

By David Mutambara

THERE is a raging debate in the media about issues of corporate governance such as influence peddling, conflict of interest, corruption, and too much regulation breedi

ng corruption and black or white managers as a front. This debate is real.

Influence peddling occurs when a powerful member of society exerts political pressure for favours to be advanced to other parties. This is usually on the basis of “who you know” rather than “what you know”. Sometimes this involves the use of membership to the same church, party or any such grouping to gain financial and other favours for your business.

I have no doubt in my mind that I am not necessarily saying one cannot perform work for your political party or church. No, not at all. What I am saying is that if this is done, this should be above board.

There is need for clear policies and regulations of this practice. A director of a company, if he is to perform private work for the organisation that he sits on the board, should do so with a clear understanding of the risks involved.

Will the rest of the stakeholders not raise eyebrows when murky details emerge? In the absence of the guidelines and policies regulating such conduct, usually the details emerge from staff and other embittered tender losers. It is usually embellished.

Sometimes the exercise of influence peddling could be a lot subtler.

Powerful people in government and private sector employ their spouses and relatives to run their private businesses, which in turn purport to provide goods and services to the same organisation where their more powerful relatives are employed.

We should not be too hasty to say it is wrong, but in the absence of good governance systems and regulations, this is subject to interpretation in widely different ways by staff and the wider community. The company then runs the risk of being interpreted as practising poor corporate governance.

If staff can buy products at a discounted price this must be clearly stated in policy. If politicians can access the same products at a discount, then why not just state this and let every one know of this position, preferably in print?

For a CEO or senior manager to help himself to the “waste material” every other week, helps himself to company trucks to attend his numerous funerals every week, then he is guilty of influence peddling and abuse of authority.

What will happen is that staff members will also begin to agitate for the same favours, week after week. The same CEO will be forced to give in to some staff demands and to refuse some other demands. This can then create a vicious circle of staff conflict and poor industrial relations in the company.

Organisations get around this by asking their potential and current directors to come clean and declare their assets before they join the board.

Sometimes they are asked to recuse themselves in discussions concerning companies they have interests in, such as a shareholding interest.

The truth is that directors will sometimes conceal this conflict of interest. After all, revealing that you know the director of that bidder, who happens to be your wife or brother in financial distress, might mean loss of the tender.

Hence unscrupulous directors keep mum over their conflict of interest.

Some amongst us will view this as idealistic viewpoints that have no place in this cutthroat, dog- eat-dog society we live in. Everybody is doing it. Why not me?

But this is the cancer that eats into our society, if it goes unchecked. There will probably be no individual that will be able to remain squeaky clean in this environment. I know that.

Hence it is precisely for this reason that there is need for proper policies and regulations to help mankind manage their inclinations towards being dirty and unscrupulous. Corruption cannot be eliminated, but can be contained with proper checks and balances. But then again, too much regulation usually breeds petty officials and hence corruption.

* For comments and feedback, please email or phone Edwin Kondo atldc@ecoweb.co.zw or 301985/8.

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