Ethics Case Study-1

A close friend of your joins a reputed construction firm. He is assigned to a
project under which the company is building a flyover in a metropolitan
city.
In his very first week on the job, as he inspects the construction designs,
he realizes that there is a potentially dangerous flaw in the design, which so
far has gone unnoticed. He informs his immediate superior about this, who
agrees with his assessment. But since it was the superior who had passed
the design in the initial stages, he tells your friend not to reveal this to
anyone else otherwise the company would punish him severely. He further
assures your friend that his silence and cooperation in this matter would be
handsomely rewarded in the future.
Your friend is very worried about what to do next and approaches you for
counsel.
a) What arguments can you advance to show him that keeping quiet is not
morally right?
b) What course of action would you advise him to adopt and why?
(200 words- 20 marks)
I would tell my friend that keeping quiet in these circumstances is not only morally
wrong but also amounts to a dereliction of duties, given that any damage to the
flyover could cost precious human lives. I would advice him not to keep quiet
because:
i) It amounts to a violation of public trust, since he is knowingly placing their
lives at risk.
ii) It reflects moral corruption, since any such action would be in expectation of
career benefits for himself.
iii) It is vital to enforce accountability on the superior, since there may be other
projects that have been similarly compromised- due diligence must be
ensured there too, which can be initiated only when this serious error is
reported.
Thus, I would advice him to begin by explaining to his superior that no damage
has been done so far. At the moment, it is only a design flaw, which can be
rectified with the investment of time and money. The superior may earn a
reprimand or penalty from the company. But any such punishment would be
considerably mild compared to the punishment he can expect if the flyover
collapses and people die. Further, admitting that he erred right now may earn him leniency in any disciplinary proceeding, but wilful deception is likely to increase the nature of penalties.
If the superior refuses to cooperate or attempts to threaten my friend, I would
advice him to approach the superior’s superior with the facts and ask him to
intervene. If he faces opposition from the firm’s senior management too, he has
the option of bringing the matter to the attention of the concerned govt authorities
and seeking corrective action.

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Given a choice between the two, an organization should focus more on its culture than its regulations. Do you agree? (150 words – 10 marks)

Yes, I agree. The structure of an organization comprises the rules and
procedures on the basis of which it is created and functions. A good structure is
necessary for better performance, but is not sufficient. Rules and procedures can
be effective only when interpreted and implemented in letter and spirit. This
cannot be mandated by the structure but is influenced by the organizational
culture.
Organisational culture refers to the common understanding among its members regarding the objectives of an organization and their role in achieving them. It is culture that determines the manner in which regulations would be interpreted, implemented or violated. In the absence of a good culture, a structure by itself would have limited value. E.g. the 42nd Constitutional amendment, which
threatened to weaken the very foundations of the Constitution, was brought about
by a negative culture in the Union leadership.
Therefore, if organisations focus on a good culture, the structure would be able to
achieve its intent in letter and spirit.

Accountability without responsibility is like a bird without wings. Comment. (150 words – 10 marks)

Accountability is necessary for better governance but not sufficient. It has some
fundamental limitations which can be overcome only by performing our duties
with a sense of responsibility. Such limitations include:
i) Difficulties in constantly monitoring the various activities of subordinates.
ii) Accountability can consider quantity but not quality. In situations where
discretion is involved, accountability is of limited value.
iii) It is vulnerable to the risk of collusion.
Due to these limitations, accountability remains effective only till supervision is
maintained. It needs to be supplemented by self-regulation, which is driven by a
sense of responsibility. Therefore, to address these issues, it is imperative that
we use our discretion/judgment in deciding how best to perform our duties in a manner that promotes public welfare. This can only come from a sense of
responsibility and devotion towards public welfare.

Any attempt by an institution to withhold information from its stakeholders should invite strict censure. Do you agree?

No, I do not completely agree. There may be situations where information would
need to be withheld for larger public interest. Such circumstances can arise when the matter concerns:

i. Preserving national security e.g. it would be wrong for the media to relay live
coverage of a terror attack while the operation is still in progress, as happened in Mumbai in 2008.
ii. Matters that are sensitive in the socio-political context and likely to arouse
negative public sentiment e.g. if a political leader is assassinated by a person
from a different religion, disclosing the assassin’s religion could lead to communal
violence.
iii. Protecting the privacy of an individual e.g. the personal details of a rape victim.
iv. Policies and programs that are still under consideration e.g. the master plan for an upcoming project which is likely to lead to a spurt in land prices.
v. Privileged and sensitive information that few people have access to e.g. writing a
book that chronicles the private functioning and inter-personal relations of a highranking functionary.
vi. Privileged information that is confidential and can be misused for speculative gains e.g. Insider trading.

There are unjust laws, just as there are unjust men. Explain with a suitable example. (150 words – 10 marks)

The words of Mahatma Gandhi were from his struggle in South Africa against the
unjust racial laws. Laws protect the rights of people and regulate the civil
activities. In most of the cases, laws are on the lines of ethical principles. But,
there are also several laws which are clearly unethical. For example laws made
by Nazi state in Germany or laws sanctioning racial discrimination in USA or
South Africa were legitimate and legal but unethical. According to Martin Luther
King one has moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Also Mahatma Gandhi
was of the opinion that an unjust law in itself is a species of violence. In the
broader scheme of ethical governance, laws may not be the solution to all
problems since what is legally permissible may not be morally defendable. For
example, consider the case of capital punishment. While a State can enact a law
to take away the basic right to life legally, it does not fall on strong moral grounds.
Similarly, laws like AFSPA deprive citizens of basic civil liberties. Other examples
of surrogate advertising, paid news, etc. may be legally admissible but unethical.
Also, enacting and enforcing laws requires idealism and can also be used for
ethical deliberation avoidance. Especially in the scheme of administrative ethics,
laws restrict civil service to quantitative dimension of procedural compliance;
oblivious to the moral issues involved. So, while laws are essential in guiding
mechanisms of governance, they cannot be absolute due to the scope of errors.
Hence, ethical sensibility is above laws in governance and elements of moral
conscience are required to assess actions

What are the ethical concerns involved in a country’s decision to deny asylum to refugees?

Such ethical concerns can be considered in two time-frames.
Short-term concerns:
i. Greater strain on scarce national resources, at the expense of ones own citizens.
ii. Security risks, since the refugees are more vulnerable to recruitment by terror
groups.
iii. Provides no clear benefits to the host country, apart from possibly a moral high
ground.
Long-term concerns:
i. Turning down refugees will make it difficult for them to survive; will resort to
trafficking, arms dealing etc. In an inter-connected, such problems are bound to
adversely affect other nations too.
ii. Creates further hostility against some nations, perceived as dominating the world
community e.g. it is very unlikely that an American refugee seeking asylum would
be treated similarly.
iii. Reflects a weak and selfish national character; further polarizes the international
community.

Case Study 3 – Ethics

You are Ms. A, an investigator working with an insurance company.
Recently, a case was forwarded to you for investigation. This case pertains
to an insurance claim of Rs. 2 crores, made with respect to the maturity of a
life insurance policy. The company’s suspicion has been aroused because
only 6 instalments of this policy were paid before the policy holder, a young
and apparently healthy man, died suddenly of cancer.
As you begin the investigation, you realize that the policy was approved by
Mr. B, a senior employee of the company, with whom you share a cordial relation. You meet him personally and he confides in you that the policy was issued in the name of the son of a company peon, Mr. C. You know that Mr. C is a good-natured person, whom everyone at office is fond of. Mr. B
tells you that he knew that Mr. C’s son, the policy holder, was suffering
from cancer. Since Mr. C had to spend a lot on his son’s treatment, his
financial condition soon became precarious. This was when the two
decided to fraudulently book this policy, so that atleast some good would
come out of this tragedy. They bribed the doctor concerned to hide the
details of the disease while filing his clearance report to the company for
the approval of the policy.
Mr. B says that he is proud of what he has done, especially since the
company did not help Mr. C when he was going through such difficult times. He also tells you that the matter is completely in your hands. You can choose to benefit a company which has a 5-lakh crore rupee turnover
or a poor, grieving father who has no financial security left for his family.
In these circumstances:
i) What are the options available to you?
ii) What course of action would you adopt and why?
(250 words- 20 marks)

This is a case of deliberate fraud perpetrated by two employees of the company.
Their understanding of what constitutes a just action is grossly misplaced,
especially since they are old employees of the company. Hence, they must be
held accountable.
The options available to me include:
i) Compromising the investigation and passing the claim.
ii) Rejecting the claim, but advocating leniency for the two employees.
iii) Rejecting the claim, but advocating penalties for Mr. B and the doctor, and
leniency for Mr. C.
iv) Rejecting the claim, and advocating strict penalties for all three.
I would certainly not pass the claim, since this would constitute a dereliction of my
own duties. My decision is based upon the understanding that the amount of
premium charged for an insurance policy is directly correlated to the element of
risk the company bears in issuing the policy. Had the company been informed
about the son’s illness, the premium may have been higher but it certainly would
not have been a case of fraud. Further, there may be many other policy holders
who may be facing even more extenuating tragedies but are not resorting to
similar dishonest tactics. Passing the claim would be a gross injustice to them.
Therefore, I would place the true facts of the case before the concerned
authorities and leave it to them to decide the quantum of punishment and how it
should be awarded. I would especially recommend strict action against Mr B and
the doctor, for a very poor understanding of their duties and a misplaced sense of
compassion. The argument that I have a choice between a rich company and a
poor employee is extremely fallacious because it is only through its financial
corpus that the company can provide succor to its clients- it holds the money not
for any one individual but in the public’s trust that it will be used for their welfare
whenever needed.