The Fall of Governance
Dharma Aftermath by Rasika Quek
It’s that silly season again when scandals seem to break out in the international media one after the other. And we are not even talking about the tragic “Batman” shootings in the US of A. People of above average intelligence who should know better are embracing crime like ducks to water. This goes to show that intelligence and cleverness can be misused in the minds of misguided souls time and time again. In Facebook, I find righteous Buddhists venting their fury on my non-partisan views of the Malaysian political scene. Whatever happened to Right Thought, Right Speech and Loving-kindness? Methinks an intellectual understanding of Buddhism or any secular matter, without the accompanying emotional intelligence (EQ), i.e. empathy, will spell disaster for any individual concerned.
Mere knowledge alone does not mean that understanding or wisdom will come automatically. It needs to be properly guided by experience and discernment, balanced with healthy doses of EQ to avoid self-destructive behavior. Recently, a young girl in Youtube coined the term “bankster” to describe the brazen criminal actions of top bank officials in the UK in manipulating inter-bank lending rates as well as another pan Asian bank who had admitted to money laundering activities in South America and Asia. It does not take a genius to realize that banks are not above the law and should be held accountable for any improper behavior just like ordinary individuals are held accountable should they cheat or steal. I often wonder whether the violation of the Five Precepts has become so institutionalized at the highest level that the common man seems powerless to do anything about it.
Charities have also jumped into the acts of infamy, to wit, a wealthy city church in Singapore is being investigated for CBT. It seems some religious personalities have misused their influence and authority over their gullible followers to fulfill their personal financial goals in the name of God. Clearly, the issue of governance has become more and more pressing in the light of these scandals. Only a few years ago, a monk with a penchant for fast cars was jailed in Singapore, also for CBT. We should not imagine that our clerics and monastics in Malaysia are beyond financial temptation. It is possible that some of the laity may be knowingly or unknowingly abetting questionable transactions. It is high time that religious organizations be more forthcoming in presenting their annual accounts to their members. These should not be prepared in a slip-shod and “generalized” manner where off-balance sheet items may be concealed from scrutiny.
People who run societies should realize that a higher standard of accountability is required of them as they are collecting public money meant for charitable purposes and not for commercial or vested interests. Moreover, donors tend to perceive religious organizations as trustworthy and for that reason alone are willing to part with their money quite unquestioningly. Any improper behavior by committee members should attract heavier penalties, whether from the legal or moral points of view. As such, how the affairs of the organization are run should be transparent to all as it will ensure good governance rather than cronyism. I will be extremely suspicious if renunciates or monastics were to play a part in deciding how the finances of the organization are allocated and utilized. It will be red flag for me. Isn’t it clear that those who have renounced worldly concerns should not be engaged in financial affairs. Otherwise, what is the point of renouncing?
In this regard, I suggest the bigger Buddhist societies in Malaysia take the lead in the area of governance by appointing a strong Audit & Finance Committee comprising of both members and non-members or a Chief Integrity Officer (CIO) to ensure that the finances of the organization are “truthful”. Monks should be prohibited from taking part in deliberations involving money to protect their dignity and the sanctity of the priesthood. Subcommittees for fund-raising in any guise should be subject to periodical and regular audits as they may not be subject to the regular scrutiny of the main committee who may only have three or four meetings in a year.
It is easy for the casual observer to say that there must be trust for the organization to run properly and ethically. No doubt about that. But in my years of experience in charitable organizations, I have personally witnessed as well as heard of horror stories involving the misuse of funds. If we are all enlightened beings, there would be no problems, of course. But are we? The answer is so obvious. As long as we are still attracted to the objects of the five senses, temptation is bound to be there. Putting the right structure for governance will not guarantee freedom from impropriety. But it will act as a deterrent for those who harbor illusions of a personal fiefdom by getting involved in a religious organization. One may talk about the law of karma but whether he has any conviction not to do anything unseemly is quite another. Ultimately, the onus lies with our personal choice. To do the right thing or be tempted to do the wrong thing.
May All Sentient Beings be Happy and Soothed of their Pain. EH
22 July 2012