Push for ethics in bureaucracy

Focusing on knowledge and skills and ignoring attitudinal aspects is leading to a moral deficit in many civil servants

By Author Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao   |   Published: 22nd Dec 2017   12:05 am Updated: 22nd Dec 2017   12:21 am

Reports of unethical and corrupt practices by some public servants across the country are regularly highlighted in the media. An analysis of this reveals the necessity of exposing the government personnel to attitudinal change. Ethics in administration is necessary for ensuring good governance and checking corruption.

In order to inculcate a sense of ethics in public servants, every public servant must be exposed to at least a week’s training on ethics in administration. Once they start reflecting on the need for ethics in administration, at least there is some hope that things will improve for the better.

This requires establishing training function in government departments. Though the three key components of training are knowledge, skill and attitude, the focus is more on knowledge and skill. This is probably so because it is easier to demonstrate the effect in these areas.

The National Training Policy has emphasised the need for attitudinal training. It states that training should aim at continuous attitudinal reorientation to help the civil servants appreciate the imperatives of a democratic society, namely respect and concern for citizen’s rights and recognition of community as the focal point of all public efforts. Training should, in addition, help in building high standard of integrity, character and probity in professional life.

Five Principles

Ethics basically refers to the moral codes of conduct of an individual or society. Any society cannot progress without observing moral codes of conduct.

According to N Vittal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner, the five principles of ethical power for organisations are Purpose, Pride, Patience, Persistence and Perspective. Ethics also are conditioned by the culture of society.

In India, the ethics of administration was summed up from ancient times in the concept of Dharma. Vittal says that from most ancient times, as a part of Dharma, one of the ideals placed before individuals was that for a higher or greater interest. Lower or personal interest should be subordinated. Dharma is a Sanskrit expression of widest import. The Upanishads say very clearly that there is nothing beyond dharma.

Roots of Ethics

If we explore the roots of ethics in public administration, we find that we have a rich tradition. From our literature, we find that there is a harmony between the individual and social goals in our tradition. It is this harmony that provides a meaningful basis for ethics in public administration. Every individual must strive to achieve the well being of the many.

In fact, the goal of life for the individual as well as society has been ultimately distilled in the concept of Dharma through thousands of years of our rich cultural tradition. If everybody practices the concept of Dharma, then it brings a sense of self-discipline. In a society where there is self-discipline, automatically there will be peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, there is hardly an individual in this world who on his own is pure in his conduct. So, the concepts of dharma as the foundation for public administration are obvious.

Why should there be ethics in administration and what should be done to promote ethics? Vittal emphasises that we need ethics in administration because unless we have moral principles, we cannot have good governance. Good governance involves three things — equality before law and the rule of law; respect for the individual and avoiding wastage of resources.

Lacking in Integrity

In our country, there is very poor governance because we do not implement the laws effectively. There is a lot of corruption and that is directly linked to a lack of ethics in administration. We hear about unethical collusions among individuals and groups for appointments, contracts, promotions and a host of favours of different kinds. This has generally led to erosion in the people’s trust in public servants and the government.

Corruption is the lack of integrity. This could be intellectual, financial or moral integrity. Corruption is anti-national, anti-development and anti-poor. Corruption in any system or society depends on individual’s sense of values, set of social values, which are accepted by society as a whole, and the system of governance or administration.

Hence, training for ethics in administration is essential. The important component of training has to be not only skill but also ethics and value, which in turn will provide right attitude and direction. It is predominantly the presence or otherwise of human values and ethics, which will determine the effectiveness of an individual.

Values and Integrity

An analysis of the malaise in the existing situation, however, shows that the system and institutions are already in place, but the human element to drive these is lacking. While ethics is a group process, it must start with individual values and individual integrity, which is the universal common denominator.

Thus, there is a need to rekindle old principles and ethical values to gain a sane perspective on our work and personal life. Nobody would deny that basic human values such as love, kindness, honesty, integrity, uprightness and social-responsibility are to be accepted and honoured.

It is, therefore, suggested that the issue of ethics and values should be incorporated in each of the segments of learning prescribed in training programmes. In such learning, a two-fold purpose is envisaged. First, sensitising the participants to the issues of ethics and values and how they impact their total life. Second, participants can be helped to make choices on ethics by studying the ethical dilemmas faced by employees in concrete situations and examining the implications of each choice.

If these efforts can eventually awaken our conscience and guide our behaviour towards less greed, less corruption, more forthrightness and more love, then investment made in ethics and values would be well spent.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)