Ethics of utility in the case of Hon.Cecilia and Rahinato – Emmanuel Martey writes.



Last week, we looked at the case involving the Minister of Sanitation (Ghana) and a journalist intern.
In case you missed out, you can read it here:
Today, we analyse the case using the lens of ethics – the ethics of utility.
What are ethics? Ethics are or describes a set of accepted principles, ie norms, values and beliefs
embedded in social processes, of right or wrong governing the conduct of people. Ethics goes
beyond legality of an action, but also the moral integrity of an action. Ethics as a subject is mostly
studied in business (but not limited to business) due to the huge role businesses play in society.
Business ethics is therefore, the study of business situations, activities and decisions where issues of
right and wrong are addressed (morally rather than commercially or strategically). In the study of
ethical cases, we look at whether it is morally right or wrong and not whether it is profitable or
beneficial to a specific course. There are several ethical perspectives, but our focus today is on the
ethics of utility.
The ethics of Utility hold the assumption that an action is morally right if it results in the greatest
amount of good for the greatest amount of people affected by the action. This assumption is hinged
on the principle of greatest happiness. Once the greatest number of people are happy, the action is
morally right. This theory was developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill
(1806 – 1873).
To make an informed analysis using this assumption, the key question to ask is who are the
stakeholders involved and does the action maximize the good of the greatest number of the
stakeholders? A determination is made using the considerations of costs and benefits. If the answer
is yes, ie,  if the benefits outweigh the costs, then the action is morally right. However, some argue
that, such a thinking of bringing in costs and benefits, no longer makes it moral but rather
commercial. Also, what happens if the effect on the minority is so severe and cannot be quantified?
Now back to the case, the first question to answer is who are the main actors involved in the case?
From a narrow point, we can argue that the main actors in this case are the minister, the intern and
the company – Multimedia Group. The next question then is: Did the solution provide the greatest
satisfaction to the greatest number of stakeholders? A meeting involving all three in finding a
solution to the impasse that brings satisfaction to all parties could be considered moral and
appropriate. Especially, where probably, there was exchange of pleasantries, apologies or
clarifications to bring closure to the matter.
Also considering that, the young intern would now have a
gateway to the minister and all her associates; the media house, which was at the time under
boycott from the ruling government of which the minister belongs, would now be back in the ‘good
books’ of the government and the minister getting the chance to clarify herself and bring matters to
bear without the need for rendering an apology to anyone in public. Admittedly, it can be
considered win-win for all and therefore providing the greatest amount of good to the greatest
number of stakeholders (in this case all of them). Therefore, viewing it from the ethics of utility
based on the narrow definition of the actors, can we conclude that such a solution was morally
From a broader context, Is it permissible to assume that once the case became public, people got to
know of what transpired between the intern and the minister; some took offence whilst others
perplexed – not knowing whether to consider it right or wrong; in answering the question who are
the stakeholders in this case goes beyond the minister, intern and the company?
If the public are
now part of the stakeholders of this case, then does the solution approach opted by the three (3)
main actors, provides enough satisfaction for all?
In the minds of some of the people who heard of the case, who took offense for the indiscretion of
the minister or whoever made the audio public and those still in bewilderment of such a happening
would conclude that either good or bad, once there is an opportunity to have a backdoor meeting
and resolve such a case, it is fine.
Tomorrow, a desperate young person or intern also looking for
such a gateway may also adopt a similar approach or can even extend it to a form of blackmail to
obtain such an opportunity. Another person too witnessing this today would also tomorrow become
a person in position and would consider his office supreme above everyone and decide who to grant
interview to and how to relate to the media and the public. The ways we choose to handle issues
today define the values of the future generation.
I have often held a view that the greatest ‘misbehaviour’ or ‘disrespect’ in this life, is not the one
from a child towards an adult but the one from an adult towards a child. That is when a child
misbehaves towards an adult, the child is punished or corrected by the adult, the child takes it as a
lesson and does not repeat such an error, but when an adult misbehaves towards a child, the child
takes it as a good lesson for life and runs with it. That misbehaviour is then reproduced in several
ways and becomes a way of life or a convention for future generations.
It is therefore, necessary for all to always, for the sake of posterity, sensor every action, utterance
and decision not only with a legal, commercial and strategic scale but also with an ethical lens.
Thank you and look forward next week for the continuation of the analysis next week using the
ethics of duty.
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Author: Emmanuel Martey

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