Abuse of office: Giving, executing of unlawful instructions

KELVIN Siwale.

EVERY public office holder should be alive to the fact that public offices are held in trust and on behalf of the citizens of a country.

Those with the fiduciary duty of trust should always realise that everyone is looking up to them to safeguard their resources and deliver the much needed public services. This applies to all public as well as constitutional office holders.
Today we shall look at the aspect of receiving and executing instructions. With execution of instructions, it is not about the instructor but the instruction given. The risk to facilitate abuse of office is very high, if you always look at who has instructed you rather than looking at the legitimacy of the instruction before you execute it. Suffice to say that every officer has the duty to ensure that the instructions they receive from their superiors are lawful before executing them. In this vein I will ask this question; does refusing to execute unlawful instructions from your superior amount to insubordination? The answer is a big NO.
It is common knowledge that because of the boss-subordinate relationship some officers feel that whatever their superior instructs them to do is right. This is wrong and has landed some good “yes bwana” officers in hot soup while those who instructed them to execute unlawful orders totally deny responsibility. When “bosses” know that what they want to do is illegal they normally avoid putting the instructions in writing.
They will not leave any trail of having sanctioned the unlawful instruction. They will make the orders verbally and if you try to question they will say you are insolent and will threaten you with charges of failure to obey instructions. Now the question they forget is that, are their instructions lawful?
To all superiors do not throw your good officers in the traps of abuse of office by causing them to execute unlawful and awful verbal instructions which you later deny having issued. This is the reason why every seasoned officer should make sure that they only act on instructions that are lawful. In cases where superiors insist ask them to put it in writing.
Remember, as officers holding public office, you are called professionals because you are trained in your various professions and you know the right way to go. There should, therefore, be no excuse for wrong doing. Receiving and executing wrong instructions is not an exception. If superiors/controlling officers propose wrong course of action, you need to guide and bring the particular sections of the law to their attention, just in case they are not cognizant of the legal implications of the issues at hand. Further, should they insist that you proceed to execute, let them put the instructions in writing rather than verbal.
Now this is where it gets hot, it must be made clear that nobody should be charged with insubordination for this. Nobody should be transferred to a remote area or face any form of punishment because of refusing to do wrong things. Infact such officers must be treated as public heroes because they have the heart for the nation and want to support the national development agenda by protecting public resources.
All critical instructions or decisions especially those with financial implications should never be verbal, trails of accountability are a must. Otherwise, by executing wrong instructions, you will be a front behind a thief who will steal public resources and get away with it, while you offer to jump into a frying pan. This is one of the reasons why the so called big fish escapes the frying pan while small fish gets fried. What is being emphasised here is that taking unlawful instruction just defines one’s unprofessionalism. The excuse of “I could not refuse the instructions from my boss” will never be enough defence in any court or jury on the face of the earth, unless the ‘wrong’ instructor takes responsibility which is almost impossible.
As we sum up our issue for today, let us realise that getting instructions is one thing but acting on them is another. Professional officers have the mandate to evaluate the instructions and weigh them on the legal beam balance and advise the superiors when need be, before executing them.
Critical instructions should never be verbal. If you see superiors insisting on issuing verbal instructions, a red flag should be raised in your mind. There must be reasonable cause to smell abuse of office. The key statement here is that public transactions should always be well documented. Critical instructions to officers should be on paper for the sake of accountability. Executing officers; be alert whenever you are issued instructions especially verbal ones, otherwise by executing them blindly, you may just be throwing yourself into the frying pan. Let’s all serve this great country with national rather than personal interest.
The author is an Anti-Corruption activist.

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