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Competent or confident politician?

Some time ago I wrote an article about Trump as a man whose I’m-OK-You’re-not-OK behaviour, one that required consistent win-lose interactions with others, masked a deeply insecure soul. Yet despite these insecurities, despite this lack of self-esteem, he built up extraordinary self-confidence, and through bullying, cheating and lying he achieved all that he did.

I refer to this as I recently read a provocative article in the London Times about Britain’s immediate former Prime Minister, Liz Truss. The headline said it all: “Truss proves talent-free bluster isn’t just for men”. And the opening paragraph tells us she broke one of the last glass ceilings. Not as the first female PM in her country, for she was not, but as “the first woman to reach the highest office propelled by gargantuan self-belief alone”.

Writer Janice Turner rightly reckons the kind of self-belief she displayed has not been associated with her gender. Indeed, she tells us, feminists have been known to pray “Lord, grant me the confidence of a mediocre man”.

We’ve been reading a lot about women holding back from higher office while younger and less experienced men lobby their way through. Here though, Ms Turner observed “a shameless, narcissistic, talent-free sense of entitlement”. Wow. Lots in common with Trump for sure, and indeed with so many politicians the world over.

I have also written about the competence-confidence matrix, with the competent one who lacks confidence often suffering from the “imposter syndrome”, while the confident one who lacks competence displays a cocky arrogance. The ideal position, as espoused by my heroes such as Ed Schein and Adam Grant, are those who behave with “confident humility”.

So where is Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss’s successor, in all of this? In a much better place. We have been reading about the values with which he was brought up and which it appears he has been able to largely hold on to despite entering the cut and thrust world of win-lose politics: family, honesty, education and hard work. Not a bad quartet.

His competence, certainly in matters financial, is indisputable. And his communication skills are definitely superior to hers. Well, that’s no big deal, as rarely have I come across such a wooden performer as Liz Truss in such a high office. Boy was she in need of coaching…but who knows, maybe her excess of self-esteem over self-awareness made her uncoachable.

How about our politicians here? For sure some are more competent than others, and some are better communicators than others. Many are at their best at high-octane campaign rallies whose objectives are mere entertainment, hype and goodies-distribution, while others know how to switch between such show-business performance and more serious and substantive output.

To be a politician, confidence is everything. As each one puts themselves forward for election, they are certain they will win, however justified or unjustified their optimism. So it was with Truss, so it was with Sunak; and so it was with all our political candidates in August, including those who lost.

Our responsibility as citizens is to study the competence-confidence mix of those who seek our votes, where competence includes adherence to good values and where mere confidence is woefully insufficient.

It was good to see the Mkenya Daima campaign focusing on this requirement for not only selecting good men and women, but then holding those who succeed at the ballot to account. It is why the Mkenya Daima tag line is Nitatenda Wajibu Wangu (I will do my responsibility).

It’s so dispiriting to me to see huge numbers of voters in the developed world casting their support for the Trumps and the Trusses of this world.

It shows the weakness in the civic education provided in so many countries that allows for populist promise-makers to get away with what they clearly should not… including Boris Johnson and his Brexit ones.

We’ve been through our elections just a few months ago. Have we selected enough of the humbly competent? Stay on the ball, fellow Kenyans, as President William Ruto has challenged us to do.

Rishi Sunak promised British citizens a government of “professionalism, integrity and accountability at all levels”. And President Ruto, when he confirmed his new cabinet, also called for integrity and accountability. We must indeed “do our responsibility”.

How firms can handle integrity lapses by staff

In PwC’s 2020 global economic crime and fraud survey, Fighting Fraud – A never-ending battle, fraud was identified among the top concerns. So the ability to identify fraud perpetrated from either within or outside the organisation and then to deal with it swiftly and fairly is critical.

In one large local company on whose board I serve, I chair the Board Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee, where the issue of identifying and handling fraud and other integrity issues features prominently. So let me share the lessons we have been learning in dealing with such matters.

A major challenge organisations face is just gathering information on fraud being perpetrated by employees or others, which is why many have invested in ways of making it as easy as possible to communicate information about integrity lapses.

These include ethics hotlines, compliance web portals, and email contacts to which to send such information – often outside of the organisation, and typically to an audit firm.

Not surprisingly perhaps, utilisation of these platforms is relatively low when compared to informal reporting, or finding out about cases through the grapevine.

Organisations, therefore, need to build cultures and systems that enable whistleblowers to feel it is the right thing to do and to feel secure about doing so. Some even provide monetary incentives, although this may encourage false whistleblowing – a not unusual occurrence anyway.

The speed with which reported issues are investigated, action is taken, and communication is fed back to the whistleblower, has a direct impact on confidence in the process. So there must be adequate investigating capacity, with staff possessing the relevant forensic experience.

Matters reported must be handled with utmost confidentiality, for whistleblowers need to remain anonymous, thus minimising the chances of retaliatory actions being taken by those involved in the integrity matter.

Then, staff in departments that are likely to access information on matters being reported – such as ICT, investigations and internal audit – should sign Non-Disclosure Agreements.

Some decide to sue staff for damages resulting from integrity issues, pursuing criminal and/or civil litigation. But the evidence threshold for successful litigation is extremely high, so one must ensure that documentation and other sources of evidence are impeccable – no mean feat.

For criminal proceedings, the investigating officers and prosecutors need to be properly appraised of the matter to ensure they fully understand the issues, prepare robust witness statements, and hence prosecute successfully.

In addition to the evidence, witnesses must come forward and corroborate that evidence, so organisations need to publish guidelines on witness protection, together with incentives to encourage witnesses to be present in what are likely to be lengthy court processes.

When obtaining evidence from private investigators, one must ensure that it is obtained through legal means, so that it can stand scrutiny in court.

Organisations also need to be alive to the fact that fraud can be perpetrated by anyone – even those responsible for ensuring internal compliance and investigating abuses.

Serious background checks and vetting therefore should be carried out before onboarding such staff, and an internal mechanism must be put in place to ensure that fraud perpetrated by staff in these offices can be detected.

In staff induction programmes the value of integrity and the importance attached to compliance should be included for all staff, and there should be continuous emphasis by all levels of management on these subjects in staff meetings.

Alongside this, those who uphold the value should be recognised, while those who do not should be penalised.

A major fraud risk results from conflicts of corporate and individual interests. It is therefore important for staff to be given an opportunity to declare such potential or actual conflicts so as to remain relaxed in their roles.

The process of making declarations should be continuous, so that staff are given an opportunity to declare interest conflicts upfront.

What happens when there is proof of culpability, and the organisation wishes to recover its losses from the employee?

With the slow pace of court litigation, it takes forever, diminishing the value of any recoveries. And that’s if the verdict is favourable, in itself of relatively low probability. But at least with the introduction of the Small Claims Courts such matters will be concluded much more quickly.

The more I have been involved in these integrity and compliance issues, the more I have realised how complex and challenging it is to deal with them, and how one must keep constant focus on them and keep applying the lessons learned.