Ethics for the Public Service Professional

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Integrity is a long-held and well established concept for the public sector. Corruption in our Department would greatly undermine government and public confidence in us, as well as the confidence of our partners. The community and Government trust us to exercise our powers reasonably, lawfully, impartially and professionally. We have in place a professional standards framework to promote the high standards of professional and conduct expected of our workforce.

We have also developed our own set of behaviours that underpin a high performance and professional organisational culture. In addition to the aspirational value-based ethical codes, public organizations also use disciplinary compliance-based codes of conduct.

“Ethics in Public Service,” David B. Killeen Part 4 of 4

These codes contain rules which public servants are obliged to comply with, and the formal sanctions for rule breaching. The disciplinary codes are meant as instruments for extrinsic motivation. A key difference between a rule-based instrument, such as a code of conduct, and a value-based code of ethics is that the former contains enforceable provisions. The need for such codes is emphasised in article 8 of UNCAC, which urges States to take "disciplinary or other measures against public officials who violate the codes or standards established in accordance with this article".

It should be clarified, however, that in many cases the distinction between aspirational codes of ethics and disciplinary codes of conduct will not be so clear cut. Thus, for example, codes can be aspirational in part and also provide for sanctions in the case of serious misconduct. In these codes, only serious violations will entail sanctions. Whether in the context of a code of conduct or another type of regulation, most public organizations adopt rules regarding conflicts of interest and post-employment restrictions.

The issue of conflicts of interest is a fundamental problem in the context of ethical conduct in the public sector.

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A conflict of interest arises when public servants are in a position to personally benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity. For example, a public servant who must take a recruitment decision regarding a spouse, or a judge who has a financial relationship with one of the parties in a case, have a conflict of interest. In these situations, the public servant must disclose his or her conflict of interest, and recuse themselves from deciding on the matter.

More examples of conflicts of interest can be found in this short article. Post-employment restrictions are meant to prevent conflicts of interest.

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  6. For example, former public servants who worked in public procurement are prohibited from working for a company that was contracted by the organization for a certain period after leaving the public sector. Otherwise, there is a risk that the public servant would influence a public procurement decision that favours a company which he or she intends to work for in the future, and the company may be tempted to bribe the public servant by offering a lucrative job in return for a government contract. Further explanations about public service codes can be found in OECD It is noted that, in addition to codes of conduct, public servants are also guided by relevant laws and regulations pertaining to their work, including financial, health and safety aspects.

    As noted previously, the tone from the top is one of the most important requirements for public integrity in any organization. It is highly unlikely that public servants at a ministry, hospital, or any other public organization will conduct themselves in an ethical manner if the leadership does not serve as an ethical role-model.

    This raises the question of whether ethical codes should apply to politicians who head certain public organizations for a limited time during their term and not only to public servants who work at the organization permanently. Asset and interest declarations are often required of politicians but ethical codes are not always in place. A guide on ethical codes for parliament members can be found here. Another critical issue is that of enforcement and accountability for integrity breaches. After all, the problems mainly arise when the ethical values are not lived.

    While intrinsic motivation for ethical behavioural is important, the manner in which an organization handles reports of integrity breaches is also crucial for deterring and rectifying such breaches.

    The Role of Federal Public Servants

    In this context, reporting structures and protections are important, as are disciplinary regimes and control mechanisms such as internal audits and internal investigations. As discussed in further depth in Integrity and Ethics Module 7 Strategies for Ethical Action , promoting a culture of integrity entails encouraging staff and organizations to learn from their mistakes rather than blaming and punishing.

    So there is a fine balance between accountability and 'softer' learning processes. Module 7 also discusses the importance of a safe environment for strengthening integrity in an organization. Part of this is supporting staff in dealing with dilemma situations and concerns.

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    As noted earlier, public decisions must reflect all public values. In principle, the role of integrity management is to create decision-making processes that integrate reflections regarding the different values, and control mechanisms to check bias Graaf-Huberts At the same time, there are dilemma situations in which public servants need to make difficult decisions.

    It is an important role of integrity management systems to create support for such decision making including, for example, supporting potential whistleblowers before they decide to report formally. Safe organizational climate and ethical sensitivity of leaders and managers are key to ensure that dilemmas are discussed and concerns raised.

    ESDC Code of conduct

    Some organizations employ ethics counsellors or provide access to external legal counsel who can support individual decision-making or a structured process of dilemma discussion. Their role is to provide confidential advice in an effort to help individuals ascertain which course of action to take. Organizations can also facilitate discussions of recurring dilemma types in order to prepare staff for adequately responding in such situations. Other key instruments for fostering an ethical culture in the organization are the requirement to take an oath, induction training, dilemma discussions, conversations about new rules, internal policy workshops, and continuing education.

    UNCAC article 7 1 d , for example, encourages States to promote education and training programmes for public officials "to enable them to meet the requirements for the correct, honourable and proper performance of public functions". For strengthening and maintaining an ethical environment, it is important that staff members have a safe space and a structured process for discussing ethical issues, that they are encouraged to share diverse interpretations, listen to and understand others' arguments for applying certain values and rules, discuss potential consequences of decisions, feel included and heard, experience emerging consensus or at least understanding the others' positions and concerns , and have a sense that more responsible decisions emerge at the end of the process.

    What might appear as an issue in this respect is the authority to carry out the training programmes, dilemma discussions and conversations. Training programmes may be a responsibility of the internal structures of the public organizations or there may be a separate, external entity responsible for training all public servants.

    In Lithuania, for example, most governmental ministries Chlivickas, , p. Regardless, the crucial point is that during the continuous trainings the public servants can not only deepen their knowledge but also discuss day-to-day challenges and obstacles which also lead to deviant and unethical conduct. Back to top. Doha Declaration. Education for Justice.


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    Code of conduct -

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