The searching spotlight of public scrutiny

I have an embarrassing confession to make: many years ago, I worked as a local government officer in the UK.

Terrible, I know. My only defence is that I was young and inexperienced – I didn’t know what I was doing. But when I realised how it was destroying my creativity, humanity and reputation, I immediately gave notice and left. Ever since, m’lud, I’ve tried to be an honest and useful member of the community.

However, during that shameful period, I gained some profound insights into how the civil service works – or rather, how it doesn’t work. And at that time, I believed the tendency for pompous, arrogant, indecisive, lazy and self-serving individuals to rise to the top of the service was a uniquely British phenomenom.

So, it wasn’t with just a little schadenfreude that I followed the public furore over our beloved Chief Executive’s recent political appointments: a debacle resulting in his rather humiliating climbdown from his paternalistic and patron-ising position at the top of his ivory tower.

I’m also enjoying how the public’s attention has since been turned – courtesy of the South China Morning Post – onto the refusal by most (not all) NGOs to make public the salaries of their CEOs and other senior managers. I remember well how much senior managers hated the searching spotlight of public scrutiny, and I remember watching them squirm while they tried to defend the indefens-ible. The same is happening today, in Hong Kong. Delicious. 

For what its worth, here’s my view:

Government money is public money, and before any company or organisation receives government funding, it should agree to make public the salaries and other benefits given to its senior managers – this includes CEOs and directors.

If any company or organisation refused to accept this condition, it should not receive government funding.

After all, the public has the right to know how its money is being spent. If it’s being used to benefit society in general, that’s good; but the government must ensure public money is not wasted, or used to create a privileged tier of overpaid fat cats. Our beloved Chief Executive (if his business friends and supporters allow it) should promote and encourage transparency and accountability.

What do you think?

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