Baiba Rubesa, Member of the Supervisory Board of Latvenergo AS, the largest electricity trader in the Baltics, discusses how accountability has evolved and why all big corporations need to be people-centred.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INTERVIEW
- The difficulty of measuring, evaluating public value comes from the numerous and various opinions of what public value is or should be. It is still a very fluid concept. Therefore one of the key questions is to be sure that we all –corporates, politicians or civil society activists– understand each other when discussing public value.
- Multi-stakeholder dialogue is essential to address the big challenges of our time, such as the climate catastrophe and massive technological revolution that transforms the way we perceive the world and make decisions. To refer to similar concepts and understand each other well, the concepts of transparency and accountability remain core.
- All big corporations have an impact on society, and they all try to be both profitable and positively impactful. But establishing long-term strategies is often challenging, particularly for state enterprises that can be subject to political change. In addition, many corporations find it difficult to agree on values, even more so on public value. At the end of the day, we should all be well fed; energy should be sustainable and accessible; we should not see anyone living in poverty; and we should have clean air, clean water, and clean earth. How to manage that is the ultimate question.
- All companies that deal with utilities or infrastructure have impact on the air we breath or the water we drink. Their public value depends on the respect to the populations and communities they impact. All oil and gas companies, as well as mineral extraction companies, do impact on the societies where they are located. This includes the wages paid to employees and sub-contractors down to supply chains. It also includes how they face and fight corruption in their supply chains. It is therefore a matter of accountability, and of the level of accountability over a long period of time. It remains crucial for these companies to be people-centred.
NEW WORLD, NEW CULTURE
- We live in a world of crisis of governance. On the one hand, the OECD sets governance standards, and on the other hand, a lot of lip service is paid to it. But there remains too many interpretations of what governance means. It is troublesome that in most societies petty criminals often pay a higher price than big corporations or banks that benefit from impunity. And legislators and the rule of law seem to agree with such situation.
- Artificial intelligence should also be considered through the lens of accountability and public value. AI will impact on the way we work, the way we finance ourselves, on most of our future activities and on some of our freedoms. It is crucial to know who will be responsible for what and according to which standards. We have to keep in mind that accountability is often linked to money, and to corruption as well.
- The lower corruption is and the most transparent, honest, constructive, socially responsible processes, the healthier and the wealthier the countries are. And the happier people are! This connection is obvious. Accountability therefore is linked to impunity, to allowing some people to interpret the law the way they want.
- For people to participate in accountability, awareness of the concept is crucial. And so is societal acceptance: Countries need the confidence of their people that taxes will actually be paid into a budget that will be serving them. In some cases, new technologies –such as blockchain– will help by illuminating connections, although the question remains of the quality of input.
- Infrastructure is always built in name of society. But is society always kept in mind when big projects are launched? Are projects people-centred enough? The development of infrastructure should be an advantage to societies. The more sustainable it is, the healthier economies and societies. But the challenge is that we live in an era of fast “grabification”. All infrastructure projects are long by definition; it therefore takes a long time for people to see whether there is an advantage to society or not. When infrastructure projects are in close proximity to people, questions of safety, environmental impact, decent work and wages, transparency, and/or bribery arise. People also wonder if the project is future proof.
- For infrastructure projects to successfully develop, trust is needed from the part of the population. To maintain trust, corporations need to maintain continuous communication. All countries are different on the issue of trust. But everywhere success comes with open dialogue with societies. There are often bad news coming up. How companies deal with accidents, with inequality, unfairness or perceived unfairness, is what makes the difference. Here again, standards and regulation also make the difference, as well as the personality of the decision-makers. Here the tone from the top remains crucial!
- Although the fundamentals of dialogue, trust-building, transparency and accountability remain, there has been a massive generational change in companies and institutions that bring change as the same words often have different meanings and priorities are different.