Probity in Governance
24th Aug, 2021
Ethics is a set of standards that helps guide behaviour, choices and actions of individuals. It is multidimensional as it is governed by the value system of the society including the concept of rights, obligations, fairness, virtues, etc.
Ethics and probity form the cornerstone of the public administration system. In today's world, when the governments are playing an active role in the socioeconomic development of the country, the role of the government functionaries becomes more challenging as they are both the facilitators and enforcers of the law and rules. Responsibility and accountability are integral to ethics. The character of laws and rules through which accountability is enforced is based on the moral ideas of society.
The word 'ethics' is from the original Greek term 'ethikos', meaning 'arising from habit'. Undoubtedly, culture, values, character, the sense of right and wrong are quintessential determinants of ethics. Ethics in public is not limited to the expression of high moral values alone. It also refers to the framework for holding the public functionaries legally accountable for their acts of omission and commission.
- The Committee on Prevention of Corruption (1964) also known as 'Santhanam Committee' had observed:
- The public confidence and respect which the functionaries enjoy is largely the result of collective efforts.
- Adherence to key principles of Integrity, Honesty, and Objectivity promotes trust and confidence among the stakeholders and enhances credibility.
- The conduct of Government functionaries should be beyond reproach in all circumstances.
- Any deficiency in their professional or personal conduct places their personal integrity and quality of work in unfavourable light and raises doubts about their actions.
Ethics in Governance
- Ethics is concerned with human character and conduct. It condemns all types of falsehood. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its Second Report on Ethics suggested the principles for ethics in the governance and stated that:
- Values serve as guiding stars showing the path to all the members of the society and everyone is expected to respect and follow them. As they are not codified and are subject to interpretation, situations of conflict do arise.
Any framework of ethical behaviour must include the following elements:
- Codifying ethical norms and practices.
- Disclosing personal interest to avoid conflict between public interest and personal gain. Creating a mechanism for enforcing the relevant codes.
- Providing norms for qualifying and disqualifying a public functionary from office"
- At the same time, a sense of right and wrong is deeply ingrained in culture and civilization. The ethos of the society is designed by the behaviour patterns of its citizens building an environment of trust and confidence.
- Integrity has to be seen as a holistic concept covering various aspects of conduct and not limited to financial honesty. Public office should be treated as a trust which imposes a lot of responsibility on the holders of the office and makes them accountable to society.
- The power of righteousness and the capability to uphold the truth have to come from within. Honesty can't simply be a mandate emanating out of a government order.
- Integrity requires the public functionaries to exercise due Diligence while discharging their duties responsibly, make decisions with the public interest in mind and be honest in carrying out their work and handling government resources.
- The Code of Conduct for the Civil Servants has evolved over time. A compendium of instructions containing 'dos and don'ts' for Civil Servants was issued in the 1930s and collectively called 'Conduct Rules'.
- In pursuance of the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee, the Conduct rules were revised and enlarged resulting in CCS Conduct Rules 1964 being followed today. These rules are a dynamic set of instructions for the Government servants as based on the introduction of new dimensions in the legal framework.
- The Conduct Rules prescribe some general behavioural norms like 'maintaining the integrity and absolute devotion to duty' and not indulging in 'conduct unbecoming of a government servant'.
- It needs to be mentioned that there is no Code of Ethics prescribed for civil servants in India although such codes exist in other countries. However, we need to appreciate that our civil service system has a tradition of balanced Integrity requires the public attitudes and approaches.
- Probity in governance is absolutely essential for an efficient and effective system of governance. Ethics and probity cannot be seen in isolation. Both are intertwined and have to be seen as complementary to each other. The Consultation Paper on 'Probity in Governance' issued in 2001 by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution highlighted many legislative and institutional issues including:
- Need for enforcing section 5 of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act,
- The necessity for a law providing for the confiscation of illegally acquired assets of public servants,
- Enactment of a Public Interest Disclosure Act,
- Enactment of a Freedom of information Act,
- The necessity for enacting a Lok Pal Bill in addition to
- The Central Vigilance Commission Act and
- Strengthening of the Criminal Judicial System.
- Probity in governance is expected to ensure accountability, transparency, and integrity in public life. In India, we have an extensive legislative and institutional framework to address the issues relating to probity as detailed below:
- Apart from the existing framework accountability and transparency can be enhanced by
- Minimizing the discretions in various functions.
- More extensive use of Information technology in all fields of governance.
- Making Citizens' charter more elaborate with clear time lines for delivery of services and related activities as well as identifying the officer responsible for that delivery; further a monthly report on compliance to Citizens' charter can be placed on the website of the organization.
The Government functionaries are part of the society and to that extent are influenced by societal norms. At the same time being part of the governance structure, they have to be more responsible and seen to be above board all the time. There is a strong legal and institutional framework for ensuring probity. It needs to be strengthened and made more effective by nudging people to follow the laws of the land and making punishments for the delinquents very severe.