Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Nepotism, cronyism and overreach

Published:Friday | April 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Old-time people seh, "It's not what you do, but how you do it." Sometimes you can do the right thing in the wrong way, which then puts you in the wrong, because the end does not justify the means.

Corruption comes in many forms. One of them is nepotism, where those with power or influence misuse it to favour their relatives, especially by giving them jobs or contracts. Cronyism takes place when those with power or influence similarly favour their friends and associates. An example of nepotism would be where a minister of government arranges for his wife or his daughter or his nephew to get a job in his ministry, or where the mayor of a city arranges for family members to get contracts to do work for the city.

Any public official who wishes to avoid a reputation for corruption should ensure that none of his relatives gain employment or contracts under his watch, for even if the official was not involved in the decision to hire or to issue the contract, it will look like nepotism.

Something similar apparently happened this week, where the son of the minister of local government and community development, who had applied for a job at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) - which falls under his father's portfolio - was about to be appointed when cries of nepotism arose from other NSWMA staff.

All sorts of questions arise that beg for answers. When did young McKenzie apply for the NSWMA job? Before or after the February 2015 general election? If he applied before the election, clearly, no nepotism could possibly be involved.

Was young McKenzie interviewed by the personnel subcommittee of the NSWMA board before or after the election? If he was interviewed before the election, clearly, no nepotism could possibly be involved.

No new NSWMA board has been announced since the tendering of resignations of the previous board after the general election.




No evidence is available to suggest that there was nepotism involved; but to avoid the appearance of nepotism, the minister has given instructions to the NSWMA that his son not be hired. Here is where a problem may arise.

What is supposed to be the relationship between the board of management of a state entity like the NSWMA, and the portfolio minister? I think there is general agreement that the minister gives general policy direction, while the board sets specific policies and oversees their implementation. The staff of the NSWMA does the actual implementation. This places necessary and appropriate distance between the portfolio minister and the operations of the authority.

I think there will be general agreement that it would be inappropriate (and corrupt) for a Cabinet minister to issue an instruction to the board of a state entity to employ a particular person in that entity; it would be nepotism if the instruction involved hiring a family member, and cronyism if the instruction was to hire a friend or partisan.

Is it any less appropriate for the portfolio minister to instruct a board of management NOT to hire someone?

And this is why I say you can do the right thing in the wrong way, and put yourself in the wrong.

It certainly would have looked like nepotism had the minister's son been hired, and a way needed to be found to ensure that he didn't take up the post. But for the minister to issue instructions for him not to be hired (or, if indeed he had been hired, for his employment to be terminated), that also would be inappropriate. It is not acceptable to use immoral means to attain a good end.

The NSWMA has a reputation as a hotbed of political cronyism. I can well understand why the staff (some hired under the previous Government) would be quick to cry nepotism at this matter concerning the minister's son: a case of the pot calling the kettle black!

The report of the public defender prompted by the fire at the Riverton dump in March 2015 makes the following recommendation (No. 8, page 72): that "the contractor general also investigate the allegations raised by Member of Parliament Desmond McKenzie, now minister of local government, in Parliament, that the contractors engaged by NSWMA are People's National Party loyalists".

Nuff said!

- Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Email feedback to