PERTINENCE OF CODE OF ADMINISTRATIVE ETHICS
The concept of ethics has been a latecomer in the realm of public administration. For too long, doing one’s duty well was considered to be an equivalent of bureaucratic ethics. Interestingly, in the United States, the original city managers’ and federal code of ethics placed notable stress on efficiency as ethical concept. In the early 20th century, the perspective began to change. In 1924, the International City/Country Management Association adopted the public sector’s first code of ethics that reflected anti-corruption and anti-politics facets of the municipal reforms movement.
In 1958, the US Congress imposed a code of ethics on the Federal Government and in 1978, founded the Office of Government Ethics as an upshot of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. In 1992, the Office of Government Ethics released the Federal Government’s first comprehensive set of standards of ethical conduct, comprising standards pertaining to gifts, conflicts of financial interest, impartiality, misuse of office, seeking outside employment, and outside activities. Almost all the American states have also promulgated their respective codes of ethics, though compared to the federal initiative, they are less comprehensive.
Today, codes of ethics, ethics boards, and ethics training have been accepted as integral aspects of public administration in the U.S. Moreover, ethics education has also permeated the discipline of public administration. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Public Administration has made ethics education a required component of a Public Administration Programme for its accreditation and has prescribed that all introductory text-books in public administration should include a discussion on ethics (Browman, Berman and West, 2001). Eminent professional associations of public administration also offer training programmes on ethical conduct for public managers.
In India, there are a few training programmes on administrative ethics offered by the Indian Institute of Public Administration and other institutions for civil servants, but there is hardly any similar initiative taken up in the realm of education in Public Administration. The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) had adopted in 1984 a Code of Ethics for its members (comprising intellectuals as well as practicing administrators). It was revised in 1994. Certain salient points of the ASPA’s Code of Ethics are as follows:
- Exercise of discretionary authority to promote public interest
- Recognition and support to the public’s right to know the public business
- Exercise of compassion, benevolence, fairness and optimism
- Prevention of all forms of mismanagement of public funds by establishing and maintaining strong fiscal and management controls, by supporting audits and investigative activities
- Protection of Constitutional principles of equality, fairness, representativeness, responsiveness and due process in protecting citizens’ rights
- Maintenance of truthfulness and honesty and not to compromise them for advancement, honour, or personal gain
- Guarding zealously against conflict of interest or its appearance: e.g. nepotism, improper outside employment, misuse of public resources or the acceptance of gifts
- Establishment of procedures that promote ethical behaviour and hold individuals and organisations accountable for their conduct
There are several other `commitments’ that form a part of the ASPA’s Code of Ethics. The document can serve as a model for various public sector organisations in India and other countries, which can draft and follow similar codes of ethics. In fact, it would be ideal if all public administrative agencies – ministries, departments, boards, commissions, public enterprises, urban administrative authorities, rural administrative organisations and other public institutions – adopt and honour such codes of ethics, allowing minor variations in view of the specific nature of their functional areas and
organisational requirements. The whole thing has to turn into a movement, which will certainly take some time to muster popular acceptance and credence.
In this context, it has been pointed out that even though no ethical code can provide a sure shot answer for every decisional dilemma, such a code can certainly provide broad guidelines while dealing with critical moral paradoxes in administrative decisions and actions (Dhameja, 2003). Surely, it may not be possible to draft comprehensive or exhaustive ethical codes for administrative decision-making, yet efforts can be made to make them as inclusive as possible. More importantly, such codes should be drawn up by the administrators themselves and not imposed from above. These have to strike a balance between what is ideal and what is possible. Extremities are generally resisted in the empirical world of human affairs.
The conduct rules should not be confined to the ‘don’ts’ of administrative behaviour but should also be helpful in resolving ethical dilemmas. Cases and illustrations can be helpful in guiding administrators in complex decisional situations. However, no conduct rule can be absolutely specific. Certain generalities will always enter the drafting of such rules. But what is of importance is to scan and scrutinise them at regular intervals and modify them in tune with the changing social imperatives, revised economic parameters and the prevailing cultural milieu. A code that is impractical or archaic is rarely honoured in practice (ibid.). We are not advocating laxity in the enforcement of codes of ethics, but only highlighting the essentiality of `realism’ while defining morality. A judicious blend of `ought’ and `possible’ will make an ethical code a helpful instrument in sustaining an ethical order.
- NATURE OF WORK ETHICS IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
An important dimension of ethics in public administration is work ethics. It represents a commitment to the fulfillment of one’s official responsibilities with a spirit of dedication, involvement and sincerity. It also implies that a government functionary would love his work and not treat it as a burden or a load. And that efficiency, productivity and punctuality will be the hallmark of his administrative behaviour.
Efficiency has been a constant concern of administrative analysis and good governance. The notion, transcending the Classical School, has permeated the New Public Management philosophy. Efficiency implies doing one’s best in one’s job, with a concern for maximum possible utilisation of human, material and financial resources and even for time to achieve the prescribed and desired objectives (Arora, 2004).
Let us take a fresh look at the notion of efficiency. Can we treat efficiency as `ethics’? Truly yes, for a genuinely efficient person has a regard for the higher goals of governance, including public welfare and he devotes himself to the expeditious achievement of those goals. Thus, an `efficient person is also an ethical person. He or she possesses administrative morality that is essentially rooted in a conviction in the desirability of ethical conduct. Here, we are not equating efficiency with mechanical productivity but with higher levels of performance that juxtaposes the ideal with the applied facets of organisational functions.
This raises another question. Why is that the quality of services and goods produced by the government organisations relatively poorer than normally observed in non-governmental sector? Government schools, government dispensaries and government offices provide an unsatisfactory look and render dissatisfactory services. In fact, the overall work culture in public systems in India is relatively lower than that prevailing
in the public sector and that existing in the government systems in most developing countries. Even when we compare India with China, South Korea and Japan, we have staggeringly low per capita productivity. The answer might lie in systemic flaws – poor infrastructure, sloppy monitoring, lackluster control and evaluation and almost an absence of reward and punishment system. Yet, the major factor behind the poor quality of output of public systems is the carelessness and callousness on the part of government functionaries. Most of them do not have a feeling of `one-ness’ with their organisation and their job. They do not put in their best in their work and are half-heartedly involved in their duties. Resultantly, there are unrealistic policies, irrational decisions, erratic changes in government systems and an indifference towards the beneficiaries of the system. All this may not be illegal, yet it is grossly immoral. In rendering public service, sometimes even being amoral is being immoral.
Once we agree that work ethics is important to organisational morality and once we accept that sound time management and a respect for punctuality and promptness (as against procrastination) in work disposal is a valued attribute, we should device strategies for improving work ethics in developing countries including India. A few corrective steps may be considered in this context. There should be prescribed specific norms of productivity and work performance for organisational units and even individuals. A comprehensive and inclusive performance appraisal system should be adopted. This would be feasible only if job is descriptive and role and responsibilities of each position are specified. There should be maximum delegation of powers at every level with a concurrent system of effective monitoring and work audit.
Punctuality and promptness in administrative affairs must be valued and along with the quality of work performed; these should become the criteria for reward and punishment in organisations. The seniors should lead by setting an ethical example. They should motivate their juniors to take initiative, and responsibility, and also be enterprising and efficient. Conversely, those suffering from indolence, indecision, inefficiency and dishonesty should be punished. This would set an example and create a healthy work culture for those who conduct the public business. The same spirit pervades the pronouncements of public leaders at the helm of governments in most nations.
Thus, ethics has regained its status as a distinctive characteristic of Good Governance. The trend is not likely to reverse in the foreseeable future. Hopefully, there would be a greater concern for quality in public affairs and public service, and the movement of Total Quality Management (TQM) will pervade the governmental functioning and influence the performance of governmental structure. Ethics means good service and this maxim applies most to public systems.
Public administration is designed to serve `public’. By its very nature, it ought to be people-oriented and even people-centred. While bureaucracies are expected to be guided by laws and rules, it is not necessary to make them mechanistically rule-centric. Public administrative organisations are human organisations and they ought to be humane in their policies, decisions, orientation and behaviour. Being responsive to people’s needs enjoins upon civil servants to be responsive to their psychological needs of being cared for, nurtured, and helped. It is in this context that administrators ought to evolve and demonstrate a higher level of emotional as well as spiritual intelligence that would make them empathetic as well sympathetic to feelings of a common person.
Despite all the visible prosperity in India, one cannot ignore massive and deplorable poverty in the country. As a long as there is a single poor person in this country, the moral responsibility of administration remains to help him. But the larger issue of empathy and compassion is not confined to demonstrating positive behaviour towards the less-privileged sections of society. It transcends this orientation. In fact, anyone having access to administration should be meted out a treatment of respect. This treatment should not be just ostensible, but real, authentic and profound. Ethical behaviour emanates from a pure and kind heart, and therefore, those who are in the business of serving people should train their heart to be sensitive and compassionate.
Compassion involves a sense of empathy. It does not end with pity. It invokes sensibilities to understand and even feel the pain of others and motivates one to be truly helpful in overcoming this pain. Hence, administrative ethics in public affairs envisages that the domain of feelings and the universe of rationality should find a happy blending in thought as well as actions of civil servants.
A positive and healthy approach to services entails courtesy and politeness in administrative behaviour, a desire to help resolve their problems, and satisfy them even when, extra help cannot be rendered and matters have to be disposed off in accordance with the legal and formal requirements of the system. A citizen-centric administration would be strengthened through such an attitude.
Two areas where administrators ought to show an attentive and caring attitude is to provide correct and useful information to clients when they need it and to redress satisfactorily the citizens’ grievances. Even when a grievance cannot be redressed, at least a citizen needs be given an explanation as to why it cannot it be redressed. What is important is a positive approach in dealing with people and being helpful to them, and not avoiding them or considering them as burdensome. Ethics entails a respectful attitude to the citizens.
- TOWARDS NEW DIMENSIONS OF ETHICS
Fostering “sunshine” in public administration is one of the finest methods of ensuring higher standards of administrative ethics. Openness is the enemy of corruption. Almost all countries of the world have Freedom of Information or Right to Information Acts. In the U.S., at the federal level, freedom of information and open hearing provisions are an integral part of the Administrative Procedure Act. In India, the Freedom of Information Act of 2002 was redesigned as Right to Information Act, which was enacted in 2005. Besides, a number of state governments including Goa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have enacted legislations that help in securing accountability of public employees through this device.
Legislation alone is not enough. Its enforcement would require a will on the part of the State, willingness on the part of administrators and an initiative coupled with courage on the part of citizens themselves. The State machinery should be ready to punish those civil servants who obstruct the implementation of Right to Information Act. The age-old orientation to treat every information, as `secret’ must give way to greater openness and transparency. This would require a substantial transformation of the mind-sets of administrators in order to reorient the thinking of administration at all levels, more particularly at the cutting- edge level.
The movement for the Right to Information cannot succeed unless people themselves become motivated to ask for the fructification of this Right. Even though, it has culminated in the Right to Information Act, there are miles to go before we can ensure its effective implementation. People’s groups, such as the one led by Aruna Roy, will have to continue to take initiative on a massive scale. Even the educational system and the media will need to play a purposive role in this realm.
In the American system, ‘whistle blowing’ by public employees is considered as legitimate and statutorily protected. Public employees are expected to use their voice to protest administrative activities that are illegal or immoral. They can even resort to resignations from their positions to give vent to their protests. And these acts are considered moral and appropriate.
In the American federal government, there functions a hotline, called `Fraud Net’, for preventing fraud, waste and abuse. Through this hotline, employees and others can anonymously report instances of misconduct for investigation to the General Accounting Office. Besides, the American public employees enjoy Constitutional protection on speaking out on matters of public concern like dangers to public health or safety.
In Britain, a new appeals procedure for civil servants has come into effect. Under this procedure, a civil servant could raise concerns, confidentially, with an individual outside his normal hierarchy. When he believes that the response is not satisfactory or reasonable, he may report the matter to the Civil Service Commissioner. The Cnstitutional Review Commission in India considered the possibility of whistle-blowing a statutory activity, but it was not accepted as a viable choice. The need is to develop a fresh perspective on this issue.