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Ethics of Public Administration for Govt. Servants

v  Dr. S. Ganesan
Regional Director, IGNOU
v  G. Siva Ramaiah
IGNOU Student

Ethics is a system of accepted beliefs, morals and values, which influence human behavior. More specially, it is a system based on morals. Thus, ethics is the study of what is morally right, and what is not. Ethics is a comprehensive concept, encompassing all facts of administration. Emphasis on moral and ethical norms have been an integral part of our tradition. Though voices of corruption, malpractices and bureau pathologies have slowly creeped in our system, the combat measures have not been very effective. Administrative reform measures have to be holistic enough taking into their purview questions on nature of work ethics, various dimensions of ethics, focio and concerns of ethics, and also the nature of obstacles to ethical accountability. For any governance system to be transparent, accountable, efficient and sensitive, a code of ethics in the form of service rules, procedural norms and administrative strategies is the requirement of the day.
 In public administration, ethics focuses on how the public administrator should question and reflect in order to be able to act responsibly. We cannot simply bifurcate the two by saying that ethics deals with morals and values, while public administration is about actions and decisions. Administering accountability and ethics is a difficult task. The levels of ethics in governance are dependent on the social, economic, political, cultural, legal-judicial and historical contexts of the country. These specific factors influence the nature of ethics in public administrative systems.
 The gist of wisdom on administrative ethics is that the public administrators are the “guardians” of the Administrative State. Hence, they are expected to honour public trust and not violate it. Two crucial questions raised in the context are: “Why guardians should be guarded? And “Who guards the guardian?” The administrators need to be guarded against their tendency to misconceive public interest, promote self-interest, indulge in corruption and cause subversion of national interest. And they need to be guarded by the external institutions such as the judiciary, legislature, political executive, media and civil society organizations. These various modes of control become instruments of accountability.
 Context of ethics:
Ethics, whether in an entire society, or in a social sub-system, evolves over a long period of time and is influenced, during its nurturance and growth, by a variety of environmental factors. Administrative ethics is no different. It is the product of several contextual structures and it never ceases to grow and change.  Following are some of the contextual factors that influence ethics in public administration systems:
·         Historical context
·         Socio-cultural context
·         Legal-judicial context
·         Political context
·         Economic context
 Issue of Ethics: Foci and Concerns is the administrative system confined to acting morally in its conduct or does it also share the responsibility of protecting and promoting an ethical order in the larger society? Most of the focus on administrative morality is on the aspect of brobity within the administrative system, there is a need to consider the issue of the responsibility of the governance system to create and sustain an ethical ambience in the socio-economic system that would nurture and protect the basic moral values. Moral political philosophy assumes that the rulers will not only the moral themselves, but also be the guardians of morality in a society.
 Aspects of Ethics in Public Administration are:
 Maxim of legality and Rationality: Administrator will follow the law and rules that are framed to govern and guide various categories of policies and decisions.
 Responsibility and Accountability: Administrator would not hesitate to accept responsibility for his/her decision and actions. He/she would hold himself/herself morally responsible for his/her actions and for the use of his/her discretion while making decisions. He/she would be willing to be held accountable to higher authorities of governance and even to the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of his/her decisions and actions.
 Work commitment:  Administrator would be committed to his/her duties and perform his/her work involvement and  intelligence. Every duty is holy and devotion to duty is the higher form of worship. This would also entail a respect for time, punctuality and fulfillment of promises made. Work is considered not as a burden but as an opportunity to serve and constructively contribute to society.
 Excellence: An administrator would ensure the highest standards of quality in administrative decisions and action and would not compromise with standards because of convenience or complacency. In a competitive international environment, an administrative system should faithfully adhere to the requisites of Total Quality Management.
 Fusion: Administrator would rationally bring about a fusion of individual, organizational and social goals to help evolve unison of ideals and imbibe in his behavior a commitment to such a fusion. In situation of conflicting goals, a concern for ethics should govern the choices made.
 Responsiveness and Resilience: Administrator would respond effectively to the demands and challenges from the external as well as internal environment. He/she would adapt to environmental transformation and yet sustain the ethical norms of conduct. In situations of deviation from the prescribed ethical norms, the administrative system would show resilience and bounce back into the accepted ethical mould at the earliest opportunity.
 Utilitarianism: While making and implementing policies and decisions, an administrator will ensure that these lead to the greatest good (happiness, benefits) of the greatest number.
 Compassion: An Administrator, without violating the prescribed laws and rules, would demonstrate compassion for the poor, the disabled and the weak while using his/her discretion in making decisions. He/she would not grant any benefits to the stronger sections of society only; because they are strong, and would not deny the due consideration to the weak despite their weakness.
National Interest: Though universalistic in orientation and liberal in outlook, a civil servant, while performing his/her duties, would keep in view the impact of his/her action on his/her nation’s strength and prestige. While performing their official roles, have at the back of their mind a concern and respect for their nation. This automatically raises the level of service rendered and the products delivered.
 Justice:  Those responsible for formulation and execution of policies and decisions of governance would ensure that respect is shown to the principles of equality, equity, fairness, impartiality and objectivity, and no special favours are doled out on the criteria of status, position, power, gender, class, caste or wealth.
 Transparency:  An administrator will make decisions and implement them in a transparent manner so that those affected by the decisions, and those who wish to evaluate their rationale, will be able to understand the reasons behind such decisions and the sources of information on which these decisions were made.
 Integrity:  An Administrator would undertake an administrative action on the basis of honesty and not use his/her power, position and discretion to serve his/her personal interest and the illegitimate interests of other individuals or groups.
 This kind of specific theoretical knowledge on ethics, public administration can be obtained from MA in Public Administration, BA in Public Administration programmes of IGNOU. It covers: Public Systems Management, Decentralization and Local Governance, Electronic Governance and India; Democracy and Development, Administrative Theory, Indian Administration, Development Administration, Personal Administration, Financial Administration and Public Policy.
(The authors are Dr. S. Ganesan, Regional Director of IGNOU, Regional Centre, Port Blair and G. Siva Ramaiah, IGNOU student and can be reached at


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