Editorial | The need for ethical business

Having a healthy line of communication between the business community and people in power is necessary but that line must be governed by a clear understand ing of what is acceptable and not


Ethical business is beyond keeping in line with the rules and laws of the country. It should be a given that every business entity, company, service provider and commercial player abide by the country’s tax laws, labour and environmental legislation, and market rules. Laws are there to be obeyed.

There is hardly the need to explain why this is important but from a purely market consideration, the rules are there to ensure a level playing field that is a key component in a competitive environment. This is why corruption and bribery are a cancer on society. They undermine the fine line of trust that keeps communities together. Corruption distorts markets, puts jobs at risk, and can also kill, as we have come to learn from the Daphne Caruana Galizia case.

A recent Eurobarometer survey on corruption paints a worrying picture of Malta. The results showed that 60% of CEOs and business leaders interviewed for the exercise believed that corruption was a problem on the island. Maltese businesses were the second most likely in Europe to see corruption as a problem in their country.

This points to an erosion of morality that has to be fought back by all, including the business community. It is within this context that functioning in an ethical manner becomes as important as functioning in line with the country’s laws. This leader has no doubt that many in the business community appreciate and adhere to high ethical standards in the discharge of their duties, the provision of services and trade. But there needs to be a deeper reflection on the need for ethical standards that delineate the borders between business and politics.

Understandably, Malta is a small country where everyone knows everyone and familiarity between business people and politicians is unavoidable. In some cases, the proximity also contributes to the country’s nimbleness in addressing problems and issues that may crop up from time to time. But familiarity can also breed complacency and create the expectation that people in power should close one eye.

This is wrong because it leads to lax enforcement, gives those with access to power an unfair advantage and undermines the serenity required for a competitive environment to thrive. While rubbing shoulders and doing small talk during social occasions is the human thing to do, businesspeople must adopt ethical standards of what is acceptable or not. Transparency in business dealings and having an internal mechanism of checks and balances is one way of fostering ethical behaviour. The same holds for people in power at all levels of government.

It beggars belief how ministries have no formalised, legally-binding register of meetings and visitors. This may seem a minor thing but it is a mechanism to ensure transparency and make verification processes easier. Clear standards must be in place to ensure elected officials and people in top positions in the public service avoid potential conflicts of interest, not least if they have personal business interests. This call may jar with the Mediterranea character of this nation. But with all that has been happening in the aftermath of the Caruana Galizia murder investigation, it becomes incumbent on everyone to change things for a better Malta. When the demarcation lines between business and politics are obscured, the inevitable outcome is a mess that benefits no one.

Having a healthy line of communication between the business community and people in power is necessary but that line must be governed by a clear understand ing of what is acceptable and not. Just as the political world has much to reflect on these days, so does the business community. Sweeping the challenges that are staring us all in the face under the carpet is not an option. 

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