Planning ethics exam from the School of Life

Okay planners, here is a ethical practice question that I have been asked. I have written this as a planning-practice exam essay. Instructions for submitting your responses are at the end of this page.

Suppose you have been appointed as planning director for a city. You care about the people of the city, and you have a chance to do some real good, by establishing tenure-security for a lot of very poor households. And you get to shape the direction of your city’s growth.

However a gangster has built a mansion in the middle of a park in the center of the city.

At this point, just doing your job requires some courage: you are required, by Afghan law, to report this planning violation to the city mayor and the provincial governor. As planning director, you submit your official letter describing this violation to the mayor and the governor.

The mayor summons the gangster into the city hall. He says to the gangster: “You violated the plan of the city. I have an official letter from the Planning Director, which describes your violation in detail. How much did your house cost to build?”

“One hundred thousand dollars.” [Three storeys, curved balconies, wrought-iron railings, decorative cornices, the whole works]

The mayor says: “You need to pay me USD $5,000 or I will send out the police to seize the house and demolish it.”

The gangster pays the $5,000. A few weeks later you find out that the mayor is not going to send out the police. The gangster and his mansion are going to remain in the middle of the city park.

At this point, you have made a formal declaration that the mansion is a violation of the city plan. Your name and signature are on formal documents, which are now kept in the files of several public offices. And the violation is pretty blatant. Any visiting government official from Kabul will notice the private mansion in the central city park. Furthermore, the gangster and his retinue now get to enjoy the publicly-maintained green area around his mansion.

If you allow this obvious violation to remain, you could be prosecuted by the Attorney General for gross dereliction of duty. The Attorney General could accuse you of taking a bribe to allow this intentional violation of the city plan. However, your friends and allies within the city all advise you not to speak publicly about this issue, because the mayor controls the police, and maybe you will be pulled over in a remote area and some unfortunate incident will leave you dead. (You have already moved your family out of the city, so at least they are not in danger). Furthermore, the chances of prosecution are low. This sort of violation is happening in at least half the cities of Afghanistan.

What do you do?

Your friends know you are courageous enough to speak out. In fact they warned you about it after a reception at city hall where you started talking about the mansion. However, you are about to get a neighborhood legalized, so that almost 600 families will finally get official approval of the right to stay in the neighborhood they built as squatters. So your friends want to make sure that the squatters get security, and you are the key person who can get that approval from the mayor.

Please submit your written responses to pietro at calogero dot us, in PDF or .DOCX format by 10:00 PM on Friday, November 17. You may include public events and dialogue as ways to explain your response. But please make sure that these hypothetical events, characters, and conversations are believable in this real world. You may cite references. Your response will be evaluated based on the pragmatism and believability of your answer.

Responses will be kept strictly confidential (in an encrypted file with a self-erase trigger) to protect all of us from undesirable confrontations.

Comments are closed.