THE RECENT SHUTDOWN OF MANY companies and plants in the services, manufacturing and electronics sectors in the country and the subsequent mass layoff of workers spawned by the economic downturn in the United States call to mind the wave of corporate scandals that shook the international business community in the last two decades.
Foremost among these scandals involved Enron Corp., which was then one of the world’s leading energy, pulp and paper, and communications companies, employing about 25,000 people. In 2001, it filed for bankruptcy in New York after authorities found that it had concealed its debts, following its involvement in shady deals and fraud and colluding with Arthur Andersen, its accounting firm. It turned out that many of the debts and losses Enron had incurred through the 1990s were not reflected on its financial statements. Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice in 2002 for destroying documents related to the Enron audit.
Still recovering from the shock created by Enron, the business world was subjected to another scandal involving WorldCom, whose top executives admitted to committing a multibillion-dollar accounting fraud.
Here at home, one is reminded of the Dewey Dee affair in which the industrial magnate borrowed heavily in the commercial paper market in the 1980s and then fled the country, leaving behind a billion-peso debt and shrinking the market.
Remember Dante Tan and Stanley Ho? Aside from earning the ire of Church officials, they scared the living daylights out of top honchos and traders of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), which was left precariously perched on a tree branch about to snap. The PSE later uncovered heavy buying and stock price manipulation by Tan, with many investors incurring heavy losses.
It’s a fact: Corrupt leaders are legion. Although these scams have eroded investor confidence, the greater problem involves accumulation of monetary and material wealth driven by corporate greed and corruption, which have sent innocent workers out of work.
The basic problem, says US professor and author George Panichas, lies in “an absence of a culture of shame” of which corporate greed is cruelly symptomatic.
He says the pursuit of what is shameless is often equated with creative freedom. “We are so governed by our temporal absorptions and adventurisms that we ignore moral and spiritual considerations. We think of shame no more than we think of sin,” he says.
“Shame, no less than words like virtue, honor … has become an empty word, or just another expedient word that belongs exclusively to social and political vocabulary, in which words often signify anything or nothing.”
American writer Fred Flanagan looks at corruption in business and government in a different perspective. Writing for an American political party commentary website, he says everyone wants to have financial security but the reasonable desire for it shouldn’t be confused with the problem of greed.
“How many homes and cars are needed by one individual?” he asks. “When I hear political leaders talk about working hard on people’s business, I don’t think they understand what ‘working hard’ means. To me, working hard is a housekeeper cleaning hotel rooms all day for a minimum wage, a coal miner working in the coal mines all day, and parents working two jobs to support their family.”
Obviously conscious of his own mortality and somewhat dissecting the compulsion to accumulate by stealing, Flanagan says he thinks some people acquire great wealth because no one has told them they can’t take it with them when they die.
One possession political and corporate leaders can take with them, he says, is their good name–a legacy worth more than any material possessions.
This writer couldn’t agree more. Society desperately cries out for leaders who are honest, honorable and virtuous. But that’s the subject of another article.