Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Ivo Vegter
- 09 Feb 2010 06:06 (South Africa)
Hardly a month goes by without some politician's private interests coming under scrutiny in the media. They should learn from Dick Cheney.
In 2003, as the re-election campaign of George W Bush was heating up, his main challenger, the redoubtable John Kerry, said the following in an election ad: "As vice president, Dick Cheney received $2 million from Halliburton. Halliburton got billions in no bid contracts in Iraq. Dick Cheney got $2 million. What did we get?
You mean, besides lies about Cheney's actual ties to the company while vice president?
I raise this example in light of the scandal that is brewing over General Siphiwe Nyanda's security services firm, in which he retains a 50% stake though having resigned as director. According to the Mail & Guardian, he failed to declare to Parliament that this firm had landed big contracts with Gauteng provincial government and several government-owned transport firms, including Transnet. It is under an even darker cloud because of fraud allegations against its CEO and Nyanda's business partner, Sylvester Sithole, and alleged irregularities in the award of the Transnet contract.
If Nyanda had simply sold his stake upon taking office, none of this would have happened.
Other cabinet ministers are no less involved in private business. Most notable is probably Tokyo Sexwale, the minister of human settlements, whose long list of interests includes several property-related investments. However, most other ministers have at least a handful of interests, many of them in obscure holding companies or investment vehicles.
Almost all state that they have declared their interests to Parliament, as required by the Executive Members' Ethics Act number 82 of 1998, and that they have resigned any positions in which they might have operational involvement with the firm(s) in question.
Some of the declared interests are clearly small family businesses. It would be churlish to challenge anyone over a beadwork project or a poultry farm.
In many cases, however, the decisions ministers take as public officials could materially affect the well-being of the companies in which they own shares, leading to personal profits or losses.
What makes ministers think that merely resigning their directorships removes the conflicts of interest which the Ethics Act forbids? It is between their executive positions in the government and their financial interests that the conflict lies, not just in being able to sign for both parties to a contract.
I don't propose to challenge in detail each alleged case of conflict of interest. Such things are better left to full-time investigative reporters. However, claiming, as Nyanda has done, that the media is merely conducting witch hunts out of political motive is both disingenuous and besides the point.
Politicians will do this all on their own. Cope, the DA, and the ID have been falling over each other in the rush to challenge conflicts of interest like those of which Nyanda stands accused.
Perhaps our cabinet should learn from Dick Cheney. Before his appointment, he had been the CEO of Halliburton, which provides various services useful to a military force that's doing military things in faraway places. This connection raised suspicions among neutrals, and had his political opponents salivating. They painted him as a corrupt self-enricher.
The truth, however, is instructive. He took important steps to distance himself from his former interests when he became vice president. So when the Kerry campaign launched the advert quoted above, Cheney could respond immediately, as follows.
It is true that he received $2 million in deferred compensation, though fully $1.6 million of that had been received before he became vice president, and while he was still Halliburton's CEO.
Immediately, it was clear that Kerry simply lied. Unless you think nobody who has ever worked for compensation should ever serve in political office, you cannot deny someone the right to earn a salary.
This leaves about $400 000 which he did receive "as vice president", which legally amounts to "financial ties". To deal with this, he insulated it from any influence he might have in that position by insuring it. It was his due, but there was a risk that it might go unpaid should Halliburton go bankrupt. Preventing a bankruptcy might give Cheney a motive to influence government actions in favour of Halliburton. The insurance removed this motive. No matter what happened to Halliburton's profit or loss, it could not affect in any way the compensation Cheney was still (legitimately) owed.
Then there were the stock options, which the Kerry campaign soon latched onto. These had been part of his compensation, but had not yet reached maturity, and could not therefore be exercised. Realising that it would be used against him if his executive decisions in government could influence the value of these options, he took steps to ring-fence them. He signed an irrevocable legal agreement to cede them to charity. As a result, he could neither gain nor lose.
His measures were equivalent, in terms of his motives regarding Halliburton, to no longer having any interest in the company at all. The company's success or failure could in no way affect his personal wealth.
He complied, in every respect, with the requirement of having no "financial interest" in Halliburton, as the term is defined in US law: "The term financial interest means the potential for gain or loss to the employee... as a result of governmental action on the particular matter."
It is notable that Cheney wasn't, in fact, required to do any of these things. His office (like those of the US president, all members of Congress, and federal judges) is exempt from the usual conflict-of-interest laws that apply to executive-branch civil servants. And even if Cheney wasn't exempt, he could have legally avoided conflicts merely by recusing himself from matters involving his interests.
Yet, he took all these measures, because he well knew that the political opposition, and the media that sympathised with them, would hound him. They wouldn't be satisfied with only vague claims that he might one day corrupt his office out of... who knows, some sense of loyalty to former colleagues, perhaps.
So while the attack dogs continued to claim that he personally benefited from Halliburton's government contracts, he was in a better-than-usual position to deny it, having gone way beyond even the legal requirements in this regard. His defence had been prepared long before the trouble struck, and it was both legally and politically watertight. Anyone who thought he was going to get impeached over Halliburton was drinking partisan Kool-Aid.
Our cabinet ministers, by contrast, appear to do the bare minimum. They declare their interests, and that's it. They have no Cheney defence. But they should do.
Nobody expects them to forfeit their private property. However, they should be isolating themselves from conflicts of interest. That means they – and their family trusts – must be required to sell private interests in private companies. If they cannot do that because of contracts such as Cheney faced with his deferred compensation and unvested stock-options, they must take similar measures to ring-fence such benefits, so they no longer depend on government actions.
Public officials should not only have no other income, as the Ethics Act requires, but should own no investments that can be influenced by their decisions. Cash deposits are fine. So are pension funds, unit trusts, or index trackers, provided they fall outside the purview of the official (such as a mining index for the minerals and energy minister, or a property unit trust for the housing minister). Shares in individual companies, even if they're family businesses, are not fine. Ever. They're political trouble. They stink.
Just get rid of them. Keep the proceeds, of course. Nobody expects a ministerial family to become poorer because of their public service. But they should not stand to personally gain or lose from anything they do as government officials. Because even if they're clean as a whistle, the allegations will come.
They should be in a position, like Cheney, to face down their accusers as political partisans, instead of having to retreat into a smelly weasel hole with a "no comment" sign outside.
- If Malema isn’t Pol Pot, is he still dangerous?
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey