01 August 2003

Let’s admit it. How many of us have been tempted to fudge our tax returns, travel without a ticket or to hang onto change we have been given in error? A recent European opinion poll, for the Reader’s Digest, found that 46 per cent of Britons would cheat the taxman, and 60 per cent would steal office stationery. But 80 per cent would return extra change to a supermarket cashier.

By their own admission, Slovakians are the least honest people in Europe, with only 51 per cent of people reckoning to be totally honest, while 70 per cent of Italians chose the honest option to all the dilemmas posed by the magazine. UK citizens were 13th on the integrity list of 18 nationalities, with only 58 per cent reckoning to be honest.

The difficulty with such polls is, of course, the temptation to give the ‘correct’ answer rather than the honest one. It could be said that the Slovakians are more honest about their shortcomings than the Italians or British are about theirs. I know of a case where someone’s answers to a similar survey were discounted because they appeared to be unbelievably virtuous.
On the other hand, once the cement of integrity in society crumbles, and cheating is seen as okay, trust is undermined. A climate of corruption undermines democracy. In its extreme, it leads to grand-scale larceny and contract killings.

Citizens’ groups have fought back and in our lead story we feature anti-corruption Clean Election Campaigns in Taiwan which have been replicated in Brazil, Kenya and other African countries.

What prevents us from being honest or admitting our failings? Naked greed? The fear of being found out? The fear of recrimination? A refusal to admit what one is really like? Or that deadliest of tripwires, pride?

Transparency International, featured in this month’s Guest Column, advocates that business contracts should include ‘integrity pacts’. For the sake of the wider community perhaps we all need to make—and observe—our own personal integrity pacts.