Y AND --- CORR UPTION AND DISH ONOR
by James P. Wesberry, Jr.
Where corruption flourishes honor perishes
When dishonor is admired, integrity has expired
Nicanor Reyes Memorial Lecture Series
University Conference Center
Manila, Philippines – September 8, 2010
Good Governance and Social Responsibility
by James P. Wesberry, Jr.
Where corruption flourishes honor perishes
When dishonor is admired, integrity has expired
I have been in this beautiful country only a few months but I have had time enough to make
one observation. I was reminded of it as I received and opened the program for this lecture as
I saw that its first segment was an invocation. Every event I have attended since arriving here
has opened with an invocation. I have walked through your shopping centers and office
buildings and been impressed to see chapels, announcements of mass, and other symbols of
faith. Even in my own office building there is a notice on the elevators of a monthly “First
Friday Mass” and, of course, Holy Week here was more solemnly and beautifully celebrated
than in any country I have ever visited.
Your country may have problems in areas of health, education, agriculture, poverty, crime and
corruption, but you have one great asset that outweighs all those liabilities. It is wisdom.
Faith in God is he definition of Wisdom
You have it. Never lose it.
Governance is a relatively new and popular term used to describe the process of authoritative
decision-making and the parallel process by which decisions are carried out. It applies to any
activity carried out in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors and to the interactions
between them. Governance logically is performed by those who govern.
It is my personal observation that the term Good Governance came into usage in the last
decades of the 20 th century mainly as a means of describing governance or the decision-
making process designed to be free, or relatively free, of corruption back at the time when it
was not “diplomatically correct” for international organizations to use the term “corruption.”
To avoid that nasty word Economists called corruption “rent seeking” and international public
administrators opted to call it “good governance.”
Due to the rapid escalation of both corporate fraud in the private sector, official corruption in
the public sector and both in the not-for-profit sector, the term was quickly expanded to cover
all forms of authoritative decision-making in the positive sense of being both designed to
minimize corrupt and unethical practices through various means especially including oversight
by the highest authorities be they boards of directors, legislatures, city councils, chief
executive officers, or other types of executives. Thus is a relatively short time a whole body of
literature and sound practice has grown up around the term “good governance” and is widely
accepted, promoted and taught in faculties of public and business administration as well as by
professional and business associations.
Characteristics of good governance according to the United Nations
In my own opinion being “socially responsible” means that people and organizations must
behave ethically and with sensitivity toward social, cultural, moral, spiritual, ethnic, economic
and environmental issues. Recognizing and striving for social responsibility helps individuals,
organizations and governments have a positive impact on human and economic development,
business and society resulting in more enhanced performance and results.
In the private sector people have been upset by widely publicized examples of fraud by
executives and harmful environmental harm and products produced by some companies. In
the public sector citizens have felt betrayed by media communicated failures of “democracies”
they have supported by their votes only to learn that corruption, bribery and other forms of
corruption have become rampant. The not-for-profit or NGO sector likewise has been fraught
with fraud and corruption thus providing no place the highly ethical and moral citizen and
taxpayer can seek shelter.
Socially responsible good governance
In light of the foregoing we now arrive at the urgent need for “socially responsible good
governance” on scale far too broad for discussion here and now. Thus I shall limit my further
comments to the interaction between “integrity and honor” and their opposites “corruption
Clearly “socially responsible good governance” must seek to provide a process of authoritative
decision-making and implementation that, among many, many other things, seeks to maximize
integrity and gain honor for the individual, the group (team or unit), the organization, the
company, the governmental agency (department or institution), and/or the nation as the case
But let me hasten to point out that while there is a monumental amount of literature on
“corporate socially responsible good governance,” there is practically none on “public sector
and not-for-profit sector socially responsible good governance”.
To me this raises the question: Why should not governments and NGO’s be expected to be as
socially responsible as corporations? We do not have time to discuss this but I recommend it
to you for further study.
What we will now discuss are a number of words that we use to define our character and our
values and that we must use to foster what I shall call “honorable and socially responsible good
Our Language is constantly changing
Words and meaning evolve and change over the years. Some words gradually fall into disuse
or are replaced by more currently popular expressions or by shorter words sometimes that
were in an earlier day considered slang or even profane.
This is normal, but we must take care that we do not lose our basic character and value system
as words take on new meaning or begin to disappear.
Some very important words that define our character are:
Integrity - Corruption Credibility – Inveracity
Honor – Dishonor Reliability – Unreliability
Honesty – Dishonesty Noble – Ignoble
Honorable – Dishonorable Ethical – Unethical
True – False Shameless – Shameful
Accountability – Irresponsibility Unashamed – Ashamed
Impeccable - Sinful
We must either retain these words or find better substitutes for them.
Integrity is telling myself the truth.
And honesty is telling the truth to
Honor is what others think about us. Integrity is what we ourselves think about
our own character. Honor is a reflection of what we look like to others. Integrity is
what we see when we look at ourselves.
Honor is earned by what we do when others see us and know what we have
done. Integrity is defined by what we do where no one can see us or find out
what we have done.
The importance of both is defined by our conscience.
“A person is not given integrity.
It results from the relentless pursuit of
honesty at all times.”
“Honor” is an endangered word…a devalued verbal currency. It is seldom used
properly, often applied inappropriately, hardly ever deserved, frequently visibly
violated, rarely properly applied, recurrently sought by the undeserving,
uncommonly found in the prominent, regularly unrecognized in the commoner,
inhabitually merited though quite oft used in government, regularly diminished in
sports, scarcely visible in society, generally ignored when deserved and often
conferred upon those who merit it least.
Yet we tell ourselves that we are proud of our honorableness as a person, as a
family, as a country, as a culture, as an ethnic group, as a civilization, as a human
being. Are we?
Choose a good reputation over
great riches; being held in high
esteem is better than silver or gold.
. - Proverbs 22:1
Do we deserve to be proud of our honor? Who yet is honorable? Is there any one
noble left on the planet?
At one time it made a difference…presently it may not.
The word noble is already long gone from our vocabulary. When was the last time
you heard anyone described as noble or having done something noble?
The anonymity of the megacity has relegated honor to the garbage heap of
history. Personal invisibility within the mass of humanity has obviated the need
to be honorable or even honest. Who cares what others think?
In parallel honor is being bestowed as a feel good medication. Students in some
schools are now being given maximum grades whether they have learned
anything or not and a few really up-to-date schools are now “honoring” scores of
valedictorians at graduation ceremonies…just so no one will feel bad.
Thus we see that simultaneously with the diminishing importance of honor its
meaning is being diluted into nothingness.
If there ever was on Planet Earth a culture of nobility and honorability, it has now
been replaced by a culture of corruption…if ever a culture of integrity existed, it
has been superseded by a culture of dishonor.
The cult of corruption has become the credo of civilization in Century 21…and
honor, though not yet dead, like the proverbial old soldier of the ballad…is just
Ballad: Old Soldiers Never Die
There is an old cookhouse, far far away
Where we get pork and beans, three times a day.
Beefsteak we never see, damn-all sugar for our tea
And we are gradually fading away.
Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die
They just fade away.
It is said that once upon a time on this relatively tiny sphere of whirling matter
where we temporarily are imprisoned by Newton’s Law the inhabitants acted
honorably, spoke honorably, dressed honorably, respected laws honorably,
treated their parents honorably, raised their children honorably, defended their
country honorably, served their government honorably, worshipped their God
honorably and lived their lives honorably.
A myth? Ancient history? Obsolescent?
Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.
It is best to live with honor for just a
day than with dishonor for many decades
. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Indian Spiritual leader
A quick look at the English language tells us that honor was, at least in the past,
considered very important but it has been greatly devalued like an overvalued
currency in a depression.
For example, there are several words in the English language meaning meritorious
of being honored, that is deserving to be honored or the quality of being worthy
of honor or respect.
The oldest, honorificabilitudinitatibus, the longest word in Shakespeare’s works,
used also by Dante, is said to be 9th longest word in the English language as well
as the longest word featuring alternating consonants and vowels.
Honorificabilitudinity was apparently a later shortened version. Neither is
commonly used today. Honorableness and honorability are seldom used.
Honorable or Hon. are only occasionally used to address high officials.
Simultaneously honorees are proliferating into a meaningless herd as everyone
must be honored to preserve their self-respect. If everyone becomes an honored
honoree, no one is really honored.
These words have become obsolete, meaningless or are fading away.
This leads us to the word honor and to the questions I have for you.
Is honor fading away too?
Will it become obsolete?
Do we, as individuals, deserve to be honored?
Do our parents and families deserve to be honored?
Does our country deserve to be honored?
Does it make any difference anymore?
If honor fades away, what will replace it?
What is an Honorable Man?
An honorable man is one who deserves honor. He deserves honor
because of his character.
A man whose children look up to him as an example of a great father
A man whose wife can respect and love him for his integrity, honesty,
and faithfulness deserves honor.
A man whose family and friends respect him for his decency and
goodness deserves honor.
A man who holds the intent to live the best life he can, deserves honor.
A man who dedicates his life to making the world a better place,
Honorable men are those whose lives inspire us, enrich our world, and
make the planet better by being here. - Jennifer Jones
Let’s talk now about the inverted relationship between integrity and corruption
that converts honorability to dishonor. Here are the character equations:
Integrity + Honesty + Accountability + Ethics +
Credibility = HONORABILITY
Corruption + Fraud + Bribery + Irresponsibility +
Inveracity = DISHONOR
The traditional antonyms of integrity are corruption, disgrace, dishonesty, and
dishonor. Those of honor are blemish, disgrace, dishonor, ill repute, and stigma.
But times are changing.
In today’s modern media shaped, celebrity adoring society it is becoming obvious
that it is no longer always a disgrace, blemish or stigma to be corrupt, dishonest
or dishonorable. Notorious contempt for formerly high standards is now often
worn as an ornament of pride, rather than a blemish of shame. And speaking of
shame, this is another word that has been outmoded.
Over a century ago the great Cuban patriot Jose Marti, Cuba’s equivalent of Jose
Rizal, commenting on the decline of shame said:
Shame must be made fashionable
Jose Marti, Cuban Patriot
Instead it appears that shame has been repealed. Those who should suffer shame
are now big mouthed heroes who have defied tradition, law and honor and are
always “innocent” whether or not proven guilty.
Why do you suppose that Marti emphasized shame? Why would he want it to
become fashionable? Think about this.
It seems like a rather strange way of making a point, but what Marti was saying is
that it is worthwhile to feel shame when one is in the wrong. Shame should be
acceptable to us when we make a mistake, not something we disavow but lying
that we did not make any error and blaming our errors on circumstances, others,
our parents, our friends or any scapegoat that we can find.
Marti was saying that shame is a good thing when we accept it and learn from it.
Pretended unashamedness…something very popular today…may give us a
temporary excuse, but will prevent us from learning from our own errors so as to
avoid greater ones in the future.
No one enjoys feeling shame yet it can be beneficial and that’s why Marti said it
should be acceptable to us - even fashionable because from it we learn.
We once had a very colorful governor in my home state of Georgia who visited all
the public prisons and asked each inmate, “Are you guilty of what they have
accused you of?” Only two out of hundreds of prisoners said “Yes”. He went back
to his office and immediately pardoned both of them saying “We’ve got two
honest men in jail.”
Integrity and honor are no longer such shining and inspiring goals as they once
were. Corruption and dishonor likewise are no longer such evil vices as they were
Acts and actions formerly considered despicable now are welcomed by the media
and give the actor glory by achieving “15 minutes of fame” with little or no risk of
It is not only governments that have become more corrupt, it is whole societies.
In the Orwellian “Newspeak” of 2010:
Disgraceful acts are honorable
Corruption is opportunity
We have gradually and unknowingly entered a new age of cultural change.
Many people are very concerned about environmental contamination. Others are
worried about global warming. These have become symbols of the need for social
responsibility on the part of corporations and governments.
But today the pollution of the human character is a far worse danger than
environmental contamination or global warming.
Corruption and dishonor have always been with us. They have gone through
cycles of growth and diminution over the centuries. Now they again are on the
upswing…but the swinging is higher and faster than ever before. And the swinging
is generated by the great sucking sound of human character being diminished.
Since an intelligence common to us all makes things
known to us and formulates them in our minds, honorable
actions are ascribed by us to virtue, and dishonorable
actions to vice; and only a madman would conclude that
these judgments are matters of opinion, and not fixed by
nature. - Marcus Tullius Cicero
"I hope that I shall always possess firmness
and virtue enough to maintain what I consider
the most enviable of all titles, the character of
an Honest Man."
GEORGE WASHINGTON, (1732-1799)
If the chief party, whether it be the people, or
the army, or the nobility, which you think most useful
and of most consequence to you for the conservation of
your dignity, be corrupt, you must follow their humor
and indulge them, and in that case honesty and virtue
are pernicious. - Machiavelli
The greatest enemy of Democratic government in the world today is Kleptocratic
government. Kleptocracy is a worldwide phenomena and a worldwide threat to
Today we are witnessing a growing tendency toward abstinence from
accountability...the refusal to recognize that one is accountable to any higher
authority. This is the seed of Kleptocracy, planted by the irresponsible - the
unaccountable, fertilized by human greed and watered by a flow of untruth, that
grows as the roots of corruption reach deeply into the fertile soil of human
culture producing the fungus of corruption that rapidly covers all it touches with
the invisible slime of unbridled evil. It can stealthily displace any and all political
ideology or form of government.
Kleptocracy comes to power neither by force, nor by ballot. It simply grows like a
fungus corrupting more and more persons until it takes control. Almost everyone
then becomes corrupted as corruption becomes a way of life, payoffs become
salary supplements, collusion spreads because everybody's doing it and gradually
the entire country, or at least its business and governmental leadership and its
public service becomes corrupted.
The great poet Alexander Pope described this process aptly when he said of vice
Vice and Corruption
"Seen too oft,
familiar with her face,
we first endure,
--- Alexander Pope
Kleptocracy is "government by thieves." There is nothing new about it.
Kleptocracy may in fact be the world's oldest form of government. It simply
consists of the institutionalization of one person's or one elite group's greed for
resources and power in the form of the apparatus of the state. Most monarchies
deteriorated over time into Kleptocracies. Most great empires were driven by
The plunders taken by conquering armies in times of war and the hated tributes
extorted by tax collectors in times of peace...all in the name of
government...permeate the pages of the history of our so called civilization. Karl
Marx saw the Capitalists as the most horrible of Kleptocrats exploiting natural and
human resources driven by greed. But his own disciples did exactly the
same...even as they praised his name.
We have seen the domino effect of the people's disgust with Kleptocracy among
the former Soviet states. But the disillusionment expressed by many former
communists has not so much been with ideology but with the corruption which
discredited the utopian promises and their promisors.
It became apparent to the world in the last decade of the 20 th Century that
Kleptocracy had actually displaced Communism in a number of countries.
Beware!...it can displace Democracy just as stealthily.
The big challenge to democratic governance today is how to protect itself from
Kleptofungus, perhaps now dormant, but still permeating a society which has
become accustomed to it. Often throughout history one Kleptocracy has been
overthrown by disgusted citizens only to be replaced by another under another
brand name…then by another and another for years.
Kleptofungus is invisible. It grows anywhere there are human beings. In its early
stages it is unnoticed. At midgrowth it begins to get hold of every possible
activity. In its later stages it reproduces with geometric progression so that it
quickly takes complete control before it can be stopped.
The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson said "The time to
guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us."
We are now seeing the late stage of the growth of Kleptofungus throughout many
countries of the world today - the geometrically progressive stage. It has already
gotten hold of us, especially in the world's major cities...and in quite a few
Once in control Kleptocratic power tends to become more and more centralized
in one person or group which holds the franchise on all forms of corruption.
Lower level concessionaires become the economic slaves of the rulers passing
them ever larger amounts of graft which must be financed by squeezing tighter
those below. The Kleptoconstrictors continually apply more and more pressure
until the lowest levels rebel in desperation or are saved by an outside force.
We have much to learn from the real life illustrations of the astounding vitality of
Kleptocratic menace which are reported daily in the media. History is filled with
case studies of kleptofungal growth and domination. We need a scientist who
can invent an effective Kleptofungicide!
Sadly, science never seems to solve human problems. The solution to
Kleptofungal growth lies within us. We can prevent Kleptocracy. We can control
corruption in government. But we can do this only by changing people...seeing
that they accept their duty to be accountable…that they restore honor as a goal in
human behavior, integrity as a prerequisite to respect and admiration and doing
our best to decontaminate the culture around us.
Integrity and honorability constitute the real Kleptofungicide
By recognizing the importance of integrity and honorability we cannot eradicate
corruption from our planet, but we can control it, prevent much of it, discover
most of it and take more effective and immediate measures to punish those
responsible for it.
But if we are to win over corruption we must determine to whom we ourselves
are accountable. If we are to defeat corruption we must first recognize that we
are accountable to our Creator, our family, our nation, other persons and our own
selves, then, and only then, we will have the right and duty to insist upon
accountability by others.
To accountability we must add integrity, to integrity we must add honesty, to
honesty we must add ethical conduct and to ethical conduct we must add
credibility through truthfulness and transparency. Then we will merit honor…and
we must not let honor fade away.
Integrity and honorability can overcome Kleptocracy's corrupt and dishonorable
threat to Democracy.
A Portrait of an Honorable Man
Psalm 15 has been described as a “portrait of an honorable man”. Consider it:
1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
2He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
3 and has no slander on his tongue ,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman ,
4 who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
5 who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
will never be shaken. - Psalm 15
An Honest Man
Alexander Pope, quoted earlier about the ease of falling into the embrace of vice
and corruption, also said:
An honest man is the most noble work of God
. Alexander Pope
"They could find no corruption in him, because he was
trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent." -
Pagpalain kayo ng Dios
James P. Wesberry, Jr.
Jim Wesberry is Chief of Party of the USAID/Management Sy stems
Int ernational Philippine Int egrity Project . The project seeks t o
improve int egrity within government agencies and reduce corruption.
Mr. Wesberry is recognized worldwide for his lifetime dedication t o
accountability and transparency in government . While his
professional training and focus is most closely linked t o financial
accountability and performance auditing, beginning with early
crusades against corruption in his home stat e of Georgia as a
pract icing CPA and a Stat e Senat or where he invest igated corruption
and authored the code of ethics for stat e employ ees, until the past t wo
decades when he headed USAID Anti -Corruption Project for the
West ern Hemisphere followed by national project s in Mexico and
Ecuador, his has been a consist ent and powerful voice for anti -
corruption reform. Over the y ears Wesberry held high post s at the
World Bank, USAID, US General Accounting Office,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Organization of American Stat es and
the Inst itute of Public Administration of New York. He has been
decorat ed by t wo government s, and received USAID’s second highest
employ ee award in 1993. As a CPA and Certified Int ernal Audit or he
also has received the highest awards of the West ern Hemispheric
Accountancy Profession and the World Int ernal Auditing Profession