Exposing ulterior motives - part 2

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Monday, March 17 2014

Continuing our discussion on identifying the trustworthy, the second clue proposed by Confucius is to discern a person's motive. To do so, we have to methodically unpeel the superficial layers of the proverbial onion to expose motives.

When there is a conflict of interest, and personal interest and benefits override the interests of the people one is meant to represent, ulterior motives are at play.

Let us apply this principle on each of the three examples cited in the preceding post. In the medical example, of paramount concern is the health and welfare of the patient. Doctors should not be financial beneficiaries of the treatments or drugs they prescribe at the expense and detriment of their patients. The litmus test is: would they prescribe the same treatment or drugs to themselves, had they been the patient? This underscores another Confucian principle that we should not do to others that which we do not wish to be done to us.

Unlike the medical profession, bankers and corporate executives are not bound by the Hippocratic oath, that above all else, they should do no harm. When a conflict of interest arises and their personal gain supersedes, the client and the organization end up as casualties. Nick Leeson engaged in unauthorized speculative trade which initially accounted for 10% of Barings annual profit. For this, he was rewarded with a generous bonus. When his luck ran out and amassed losses of $1.4b it resulted in insolvency of the bank. If his actions were approved by the bank for which he was rewarded, did the bank encourage him to be more irresponsible by empowering him to outperform his record of profits? If so, the bank is as much to blame. Putting it in another way, is the controlling power influencing his behavior to drive up profits by rewarding him accordingly?

Confucius' concerns were with government and the behavior of politicians, ministers and civil servants who were entrusted to protect the welfare of their citizens but instead were concerned with their personal gain by way of favours and bonuses. Gandhi deems politics without principle one of the seven deadly sins. Short term policies which yield immediate returns instead of long term solutions will be the order of the day. The Bank of England has introduced new reforms to make bankers who misbehave return bonuses up to six years after receiving them. It is an attempt to mitigate short term gain and instant gratification, which by the time it comes to light, the perpetrators would have changed jobs. It is an attempt also to restore consumer confidence and instill accountability in the system. This lack of accountability and trust is exemplified by CEOs such as Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers and Kenneth Lay who defrauded their companies resulting in the collapse of Tyco, WorldCom and Enron, and for which they have been jailed.

It is recorded in the Analects that Confucius examined himself daily 'that when acting on behalf of others have I always been loyal to their interests?' Trust of the people whose interest we represent must not be breached, and for them to end up being casualties whilst we in turn are the beneficiaries, ulterior motives are inevitably at play.

The discussion continues…