Open cyberspace threatens sanctity of privacy

The fast-expanding information technology and the stupendous growth of social media have created a conflict between the need for transparency and the sanctity of privacy, Vino Ramayah, Executive Chairman of Medtech Global Limited said.

He was the Guest Speaker at the Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture held at Stamford Plaza Hotel on July 29.

He said that companies were beginning to recognise the value of transparency, allowing stakeholders to know more about their operations.

“We equate transparency with truth, openness, accountability and freedom of information as a safeguard against corruption, fraud and nepotism. However, one has to counterbalance transparency with the need to protect privacy, individual rights, and intellectual property rights, trace corporate secrets and at a state level to be able to conduct diplomacy and protect national strategic interests,” he said.

Increasing vulnerability

According to him, Transparency makes human beings vulnerable.

“The greater the power or influence we have, the greater is our vulnerability to be misrepresented, or misconstrued through the public and virtual media. Therefore, we manage our perceptions, whether as individuals or corporations, to ensure that we are perceived as how we want to be, as opposed to what we really are. We have to use a range of tools invented by the modern society, including spin doctors, PR firms, and communications departments to deal with the perception game,” he said.

Mr Ramayah outlined the factors influencing and counterbalancing transparency and privacy issues without compromising either sensitivity or integrity.

He said that while the huge potential offered by Asia made the region attractive for businesses and investors, there were concerns about New Zealand eroding its status as the least corrupt country in the world, according to the latest CPI.

Retaining integrity

“It is possible for New Zealand companies to retain integrity and good governance even while dealing with countries in which businesses are widely perceived as corrupt,” he said.

Mai Chen, Managing Partner of Chen Palmer Public & Employment Law Specialists, who was the Master of Ceremonies, said that despite being a small country with a small economy, New Zealand can influence in raising the world’s standard of integrity and public accountability.

But Mr Ramayah warned against the rising level of graft in this country.

He quoted a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) statement, according to which, corruption was rising and that it had investigated frauds totalling about $2.2 billion last year.

Regulations in US

Later, answering a question raised by Sir Anand if New Zealand could benefit from legal statutes relating to corruption in America and Britain, Mr Ramayah said that the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act were strong pieces of legislation, and that they can be adopted in New Zealand.

“The US has a strong judicial system which can quickly arrest corporate excesses and regulate the practices of Wall Street,” he said.

“Accountability is essential to achieve good governance but the importance of protecting the interests of stakeholders should not be overlooked.”

Increasing fraud

He quoted Controller & Auditor-General Lynette Provost as saying that fraud was ´a fact of business life in New Zealand.’

“The chance of fraud occurring in large organisations was greater. For governmental organisations with more than 2000 employees, 61% reported at least one incident of fraud over the last 12 months.”

Mr Ramayah said that the SFO had a different view on transparency in New Zealand.

“Adam Feely, former Chief Executive, indicated that corruption was on the rise and that the country had changed since the global financial crises.

“Most companies ignore risks and leave to internal audits, which uncover less than 2% of this fraud. It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors (not that of auditors) to prevent fraud,” he said.

Earlier in his address, Sir Anand emphasised the importance of focusing on issues related to good governance in New Zealand and those in business.

“The values we hold dear in life are not any birth right. They are grounded in the values of those who have preceded us, formed and shaped through education and through interactions with peers, colleagues and role models. They are expected by the customers of business,” he said.

Members of Parliament Winston Peters, Dr Russel Norman, Dr Rajen Prasad, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Chairman and Chief Executives of public and private sector companies, bankers, barristers, lawyers and senior executives attended the Lecture.

The picture here shows (from left) Lady Susan Satyanand, Sir Anand Satyanand, Ravin Lal, Mai Chen, Dr Russel Norman, Vino Ramayah, Veera Ramayah, Reena Ramayah, Robert Khan, Mark Hiddleston, Winston Peters, Ramesh Subramaniam and Penny Hulse (Picture by Narendra Bedekar)

ANZ and Radio Tarana were the Title Sponsors of the Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture this year.

More detailed reports and pictures will appear in our next issue.

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