Institutions in crisis in the headlines again


Is there a pattern emerging?

It’s a depressing succession of bad news in recent days.

Police accused of stealing identities of dead children (following the imprisonment of a senior police officer over hackgate)

Then there’s Chris Huhne – pleading guilty. This in an era where there is an ‘anti-politics’ atmosphere likely to tar politicians in general, not just him or his party.

Then there’s the absolute scandal of the Magdelen Laundries in Ireland run by the church, which is due to report on 5 February. At the same time there’s the special pleading from the churches and other religious organisations over equal marriage – rhetoric that seems to have become increasingly hysterical from institutions in recent weeks. “So chaps, what shall our Christmas message be about? Achieving peace in war-ravaged parts of the world? Tackling world poverty? Dealing with climate change? No, they went for this. The second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is on 5 February. Iain Dale provides a brilliant riposte to opponents of the Bill here.

Sport too is also being tarred – with allegations of match-fixing on a scale as yet unseen in the world of football.

We know about the banks – this week we’ll find out the size of the fine RBS has to pay to US authorities over LIBOR rigging – & who foots the bill. (Bankers or taxpayers).

Some of you may have also spotted fallout in far-left and activist circles too.

Aside from the individual issues associated with the institutions concerned, a pattern seems to be emerging around (the lack of) transparency and accountability of organisations in general. In particular, taking some questions from Tony Benn during his final days in the Commons, the following questions should apply to all large institutions with more than the minimum of power and influence.

  • what power do you have?
  • where did you get it?
  • in whose interests do you exercise it?
  • to whom are you accountable?
  • how can we get rid of you?

On the accountability point, that for me includes being able to get hold of information to hold an institution to account. How do you persuade someone inside a system that transparency is a good thing? History seems to be littered with cases where it’s the exposure of the cover-up is worse than the original crime or misdemeanour. (Or perhaps where the cover-up allowed the multiple repetition of the original crimes over an extended period of time, impacting on more people).

Should there be some consistent standards on transparency, accountability & corporate governance for large organisations that go far beyond what we have today? If so,what should they be? (Irrespective of public, private, voluntary or religious nature of organisation).

  • What information should be made public automatically?
  • Who should be doing what scrutiny & at what points in business activity?
  • What better feedback mechanisms are there beyond financial bottom lines? (Isn’t it too late if sales or donations etc fall?)
  • Should non-state organisations delivering public services be compelled to meet higher  standards of transparency – eg freedom of information?

Or is the desire for as little transparency & accountability one inherent in large organisations?



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