AL-IMAM ABDUSEMI’ OLATUNJI AJANI-ALKILANY
Accountability and Transparency in Management: Islamic Values as Panacea
Being a lecture delivered at the Ramadan Iftar
ORGANIZED BY: THE CHARTERED INSURANCE INSTITUTE OF NIGERIA [CIIN]
AT THE LAGOS STATE SECRETARIAT CENTRAL MOSQUE HALL
ALAUSA, IKEJA, LAGOS.
On Thursday 7th June, 2018
(Ramadan 22nd, 1439 A.H)
AL-IMAM ABDUSEMI’ OLATUNJI AJANI-ALKILANY
ISLAMIC EDUCATION & FAITH INITIATIVE
In the Name of Allah, the Ever-Generally Beneficent, the Ever-DiscriminatelyMerciful, Praise to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds and may His Choicest Blessing and Benediction continue to abide with the noblest of mankind and the Seal of Prophets, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), his household, his companions, and all believers on the path of rectitude. Aamin.
The Chairman of the occasion, invited guests and distinguished brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen:
As-Salam alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu. Ramadan Kareem & Ramadan Mubarak to you all once again.
The choice and intent of this gathering is rife and auspicious, especially in the Ramadan season the inevitability of the concepts of Accountability and Transparency are relevant in our national lives.
Such topic of discourse is expected to be contemporaneous and of course robust enough to the extent that it would promote understanding and dispel misconception about the teachings of Islam. The focus of the topic should also project Islam’s message of peace, tolerance and mutual understanding and respect for and sanctity of human life having in mind the religious diversity of the insurance industry.
I have therefore deliberately and strategically chosen the topic: “ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY IN MANAGEMENT: ISLAMIC VALUES AS PANACEA”. Interestingly, the ubiquitous word that pervades almost all the index of the world economy is CORRUPTION.
The Qur’an asserts:
“Corruption has appeared in the land and the season account if that which men’s hands have wrought that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return” – Q 30:41. (Ar-Rum).
Similarly, several other Quranic verses such as; (Q11:84-85); (Q.13:11)(Q.33:67-68), (Q83:1-6ff), (Q.104:1-3ff) make laudable campaign against corruption and deceit. They launch commandments forbidding cheating, economic sabotage, money laundering, fraud, bribery, nepotism, embezzlementand above all inordinate amassment of wealth. For instance, a particular chapter in the Holy Qur’an named At-Takaathur (102:1-8) warns vehemently against excessive accumulation of worldly affluence, and being too materialistic.
DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS:
Before going any further, it is appropriate we define the keywords that will be the basis of this lecture.
The state of being accountable or liable to be called on to render accounts. It is the condition or quality of being responsible or having to give an explanation for one’s actions.
It refers to openness, degree of accessibility to view documented records or materials or information. The quality of being transparent and fine enough to be seen through.
The control and organization for business, all those who controls business, enterprise etc. The skill in developing with people or situations
These are the principles or standards of behavioural patterns. It includes way of life, norms, beliefs and characters of a society, religion etc. They are principles and ideas that are generally accepted by a particular group.
RAMADAN AS TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY NORM:
Perhaps, before the advent of Ramadan every year, we read various reports in the media showing the number of hours that Muslims around the world would observe fasting in 24 hours.
Muslims are spread all across the globe but the majority is concentrated in the region just above the equator. The length or duration of a fasting day in Ramadan changes every year but for the most of the Muslims, living in the above mentioned region, usually don’t have to fast for long hours. For instance, those in the tropics experience shorter hours than those in the cold or colder regions.
However, those living near the polar circle or to be more precise in countries like Sweden, Norway or Canada, the duration of a fasting day is usually long. In the next 30 years, Ramadan will fall during summer and winter in the northern hemisphere and the fasting hours will greatly vary in the northern latitudes. During such days, Muslims in countries like Sweden will have to brave long hours of fasting. As a matter of fact, they will have very little gap between their Iftar meal and Sahur, which means that Muslims living in higher latitudes would be fasting for as long as 23 hours and would have to rely on only one meal during the entire day for the entire month of Ramadan.
During this blessed month, Muslims are supposed to fast, which is the fourth pillar of Islam. Fasting is a way of worshipping Allah and not a test of human endurance Contrary to popular belief, Islam is a very flexible religion. That is why we have the institution of Ijtihaad, an Arabic term meaning (independentreasoning). Of course, authentic Muslim scholars do it. I was wondering if there were a fatwa (or edict) regarding fasting in regions or countries close to the polar circles.
Islam is a religion, which is not confined to any geographical area or time. Its teachings encompass time and space and that is why Allah has declared Qur’an as His final words. Thanks to the institution of Ijtihaad, Muslim scholars have always been able to come up with Islamic solutions to new problems or issuesthat emerge with the changing times and its dynamics.
Now let us talk about this holy month and what it has in store for us. What is the basic purpose of this month? Are we able to take advantage of this month to the fullest by understanding the basic philosophy behind fasting?
Ideally, we don’t just waste food at home; this wastage could also be witnessed at communal Iftarat (p1. Iftar), like at mosques or at Iftar dinners or parties. An Indian expatriate wrote to me the other day about Iftars arranged at bigmosques. According to him, most of the food goes to the garbage bins. It is true that the goodwill and good intention is there but common sense would prevail. There are many things that we can learn from Ramadan but apparently we don’t. One of the most important lessons that we can learn from Ramadan is respecting our fellow humans and the sanctity of their lives.
There is no let up in the violence across the region, which happens to be Muslim. During this year’s Ramadan, the world has been jolted with the Nakbah (Day of Catastrophe) celebration of 70th year resettling and usurpation of the Palestinians from their homelands by the Israeli Zionists. The unabated strife and insurgency in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Nigeria, Iraq and theconcomitant war in Syria, and elsewhere are rife and spontaneous in our thoughts. The collapse of the oil price at the world market is equally marked in our memories. Therefore, the debacle of economic crunch is visible everywherein the world. The interrelatedness of each economy to the other is more discernible now than before.
Indeed, everything is connected to everything else, as in the world of ecology and in public administration. Transparency seems to have become the new panacea for all government ills and often trumps everything else from consideration – including accountability. Transparency has become the new vogue concept in public administration and management, especially of the Corporate World governance.
Transparency requires a more nuanced and analytical approach than taken by many in academia and by most in politics and electioneering processes. While it is appropriate that academic treatments of the concept lead to tenure or promotion, our concern is that much of what has been published is not particularly useful to the practitioner. To quote E.F. Schumacher from his book, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, “an ounce of practice is generally worth a ton of theory.” For today’s practitioner, a more balanced and integrated approach to transparency is needed.
Meaningful accountability should be the primary focus for public administration practitioners and governments. Accountability is one of the “ends” of democracy. Transparency is not an end, but a useful but limited mechanism. Often the tool is viewed as an end in itself, leading to the belief in a self-generating accountability. As the argument goes, greater openness leads to greater involvement of citizens and therefore greater democracy. This greater democracy leads to more accountability. What could be wrong with this picture?
One recent story in the Economist pointed out that transparency and clarity about public budgets allow citizens “to lobby for different spending priorities” and that openness of budgets encourages lenders. Unfortunately, the article cited Morocco, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria as models for budget transparency. Anyone who has worked in those countries would have great concerns over the accuracy and meaningfulness of those budgets. After all, Greece – with all of the scrutiny of the European Union – provided published public budgets that were artful works of fiction. From our point of view, there are three major issues that practitioners must think about in linking transparency and accountability:
TRANSPARENCY AS AN END IN ITSELF:
Financial disclosure systems are one of the best examples of how transparency can be used to disguise illicit intent. Good disclosure systems have professional staff reviewing submissions regularly with the authority to ask for clarification and take action in cases of non-compliance. Too many countries view the exercise of producing disclosures and making them available to the public as enough. Even well designed disclosure systems either can exclude significant information from scrutiny and public access or may release large amounts of material relying on the public to detect problems. Collecting hundreds of thousands of disclosures was the first approach by both Argentina and the Ukraine. Both countries made the documents available to the public. Citizens and the media were so overwhelmed by the amount data that the documents were useless.
A good historical reminder is that Enron Corporation’s accounts were entirely transparent. The problem was that the information provided was impossible to understand unless you were a well-qualified forensic accountant with a large research team at your disposal. Not everything significant was connected to everything else and the message was missed. After the fact, even their board of directors admitted that they could not understand the reports they were given.
TRANSPARENCY THAT LEADS TO LESS ACCOUNTABILITY:
Transparency, especially at the state and local levels, can lead to ‘the flight from accountability.” Elected officials and senior bureaucrats often find it difficult, or not in their interests, to plan beyond the short-term. Government is not a well-oiled machine and officials are understandably reluctant to take complete responsibility for something they cannot control. Transparency in government tends to drive a focus on quarterly or annual results. There is a preference for decisions that can produce favorable, verifiable information rather than long-term policies or programs that would be better but where easily measureable data is not readily available. Transparency can impede long-term planning, ensure that governments are less innovative and have less opportunity to plan.
Those favoring greater transparency argue that it leads to more thoughtful, considered policy choices by citizens. Although this position is attractive from a philosophical point of view, there is little empirical evidence to support it. As stated in David Primo’s recent New York Times article; “Against Disclosure,” “once you accounts for everything available to voters, campaign-finance disclosure provides very little informational benefit.”
Informational benefit is what matters. There is now good evidence that detailed and finely tuned Key Performance
Indicators (one among a myriad of such measures) often leads to gaming of the system for improper advantage of various kinds, or function merely as perverse incentives to avoid accountability and responsibility.
THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF TRANSPARENCY:
An exclusive focus on transparency can lead to unexamined confidence in the actions of government. Open systems do not mean that information is presented in a meaningful way or that it is accurate. The innocent assumption is that the citizen or the media will be able to detect and expose this kind of wrongdoing. First, very few citizens have the ability to analyze a local government budget. Second, there are fewer and fewer traditional media players with the capacity to do investigative work. More and more newspapers employ stringers to write stories suited to broader political agendas. Combined with the tsunami of blogs of varying (and sometimes appalling) expertise and accuracy, it makes access to accurate analysis a very daunting task. The electronic media also suffer because of talking heads that have human-interest stories as their prime focus. Complex stories that take more than 60 seconds to explain do not make good television or attract audiences of the requisite size and demographic.
In the international context, simplistic evaluation of transparency (rather than accountability) allows governments to escape scrutiny, while others are unfairly labeled as corrupt. Organizations such as Transparency International produce indicators like the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Due to the design of the CPI, if a country takes significant actions against corruption and has an open press it is possible that it will fare worse. This can lead to less transparency as the government tries to deal with the fall-out of an apparently worse result in the transparency indexes.
The financial costs of transparency are often not counted. Government oversight and other transparency measures are expensive. Freedom of information regimes can have significant costs. Some experts believe the Freedom of Information Act increases expenditures of almost a billion dollars. Ironically, more senior officials around the world are making it a practice to “not take notes” or at least make them indecipherable in case there should be a freedom of information request. Whereas, the present writer is presently working on: ‘The Concept of the Freedom of Religion’ in an ongoing doctoral research. It will not be out of place to mention here, the huge expenditure that are being incurred by the Department of States of the United States of America in gauging the index of assaults, harassments and persecutions across the globe. These are aimed at stabilizing and restructuring the ethos of religious freedom, peace and tranquility amongst sovereign states and governments. Iran and Nigeria among other countries are quite prominent on the rate of abuses and deprivations of rights and freedom of worship. Therefore, the notion of transparency and accountability are now being placed on the threshold of international politics and securities. So, in a world where the issue of transparency is ubiquitous, the corporate world is also inclusive.
I therefore charge of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, an umbrella body for insurance brokers, actuary practitioners and other professionals in the industry to be more transparent enough in charging and regulating premiumcharges for various policies considering the risks of fire, death, accident, burglary etc. Both the insurance and assurance firms should stand high and distinct from the enmesh of corruption and frauds.
On this note the U.S. federal financial disclosure system requires the hiring of over 1000 full time and almost 9000 part-time positions to do the work. The U.S. federal budget system was initially made an annual event in order to increase transparency. However, the U.S. Congress has managed to politicize the system to the extent that citizens do not understand what is being spent. The transparency control of having only “annual” expenditures conceals the real costs of projects and encourages administrators to obligate their entire budgets before the end of the fiscal year.
In the final analysis, transparency and accountability is not the same thing. They are not even the same kind of thing. Transparency is a mechanism for achieving scrutiny of meaningful information. Transparency of government information occurs in the real world of personal and political responsibility and can lead to greater accountability, but sometimes less. The problem with transparency as a management fad is that it can lead to distraction, complacency, perverse incentives, greater costs and loss of public confidence in the integrity of government and administration. This is true in the developed world and a nightmare in the developing world. Transparency for transparency’s sake is of no practical value. Accountability has to be the end. Everything is connected to everything else. Quintessentially, one of the shortest but highly insightful chapters in the Holy Qur’an is the Chapter of Time, Al-‘Asr (103:1-3) might be apt to rest this discourse thus:
I swear by the Time,
Most surely Man is in state of loss,
Except those who believe and do good, enjoin on each other truth and enjoin on each other patience.
Thank you all for listening.
Wa salam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatuhu.
ABDUSEMI’ O. AJANI-ALKILANY
BA (Hons.) Ilorin, PGDE (Kaduna), MA (LASU) Islamic Political Thought.
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