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The Housing Allowance

The Housing Allowance
Case 10.4 The Housing Allowance
Wilson Mutambara grew up in the slums outside Stanley, capital of the sub- Saharan African country of
Rambia. 71 Through talent, hard work, and luck he made it through secondary school and won a
scholarship to study in the United States. He eventually received an MBA and went to work for NewCom,
a cellular telephone service. After three years in the company’s Atlanta office, Wilson was given an
opportunity to return to Rambia, where NewCom was set-ting up a local cellular service. Eager to be
home, Wilson Mutambara couldn’t say yes fast enough. NewCom provides its employees in Rambia with a
monthly allowance of up to $ 2,000 for rent, utilities, and servants. By Western standards, most of the
housing in Stanley is poor quality, and many of its neighborhoods are unsafe. By providing the
allowance, NewCom’s intention is to see that its employees live in areas that are safe and conven-ient
and that they live in a style that is appropriate to the company’s image. To claim their housing
allowance, NewCom’s employ-ees in Rambia are supposed to turn in receipts, and every month Wilson
Mutambara turned in an itemized statement for $ 2,000 from his landlord. Nobody at NewCom thought it
was unusual that Wilson never entertained his coworkers at home. After all, he worked long hours and
traveled ­frequently on business. However, after Wilson had been in Rambia for about fifteen months, one
of his coworkers, Dale Garman, was chatting with a Rambian customer, who referred in passing to Wilson
as a person living in Old Town. Garman knew Old Town was one of the slums outside Stanley, but he kept
his surprise to himself and decided not to mention this information to anyone else until he could
independently confirm it. This wasn’t difficult for him to do. Wilson was indeed living in Old Town in the
home of some relatives. The house itself couldn’t have rented for more than $ 300, even if Wilson had the
whole place to himself, which he clearly didn’t. Dale reported what he had learned to Wilson’s supervisor,
Barbara Weston. When Weston confronted him about the matter, Wilson admitted that the place did rent
for a “ little less” than $ 2,000, but he vigorously defended his action this way: “ Every other NewCom
employee in Rambia receives $ 2,000 a month. If I live economically, why should I be penalized? I should
receive the same as everyone else.” In response, Weston pointed out that NewCom wanted to guarantee
that its employees had safe, high- quality housing that was in keeping with the image that the company
wanted to project. Wilson’s housing arrangements were “ unseemly,” she said, and not in keeping with
his profes-sional standing. Moreover, they reflected poorly on the company. To this, Wilson Mutambara
retorted: “ I’m not just a NewCom employee; I’m also a Rambian. It’s not unsafe for me to live in this
neighborhood, and it’s insulting to be told that the area I grew up in is ‘ unseemly’ or inappropriate for a
company employee.” Barbara Weston pointed out that the monthly receipts he submitted had been
falsified. “ Yes,” he admitted, “ but that’s common practice in Rambia. Nobody thinks twice about it.”
However, she pressed the point, arguing that he had a duty to NewCom, which he had violated. As the
discussion continued, Mutambara became less confi-dent and more and more ­distraught. Finally, on the
verge of tears, he pleaded, “ Barbara, you just don’t understand what’s expected of me as a Rambian or
the pressure I’m under. I save every penny I have to pay school fees for eight nieces and nephews. I owe
it to my family to try to give those children the same chance I had. My relatives would never understand
my living in a big house instead of helping them. I’m just doing what I have to do.”
Discussion Questions
1. Did Wilson Mutambara act wrongly? Explain why or why not. Assess each of the arguments he gives in
his own defense. What other courses of action were open to him? What would you have done in his place?
2. Was Dale Garman right to confirm the information he had received and to report the matter? Was it
morally required of him to do so?
3. What should Barbara Weston and NewCom do? Should Wilson be ordered to move out of Old Town and
into more appropriate housing? Should he be terminated for having falsified his housing receipts? If not,
should he be punished in some other way?
4. Is NewCom unfairly imposing its own ethnocentric values on Wilson Mutambara? Is the company’s
housing policy fair and reasonable? Is it culturally biased?
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