[Essay] Ethics in Governance

Human civilization has covered a long journey to reach in this phase of prosperity and tranquility. After scrutinizing the basic elements in the stability of our civilization, we find our moral values, ethics and integrity working as an adhesive between the bricks and soil of it. Ethics is a system of accepted beliefs, morals and values which influence human behavior in every aspect. In other terms, ethics is the study of what is morally right and what is not. The Latin origin of the word ethics is
‘ethicus’ which means ‘Character’. Ethics is not a new phenomenon but has its roots deep in every form of human culture. It has its traces from the very oldest scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata & Arthashastra to the newest texts of history.

            In public life, ethics is very often used as a synonym or even an interchangeable expression for terms like values, norms, integrity, morality etc. In public administration, ethics focuses on how the public administrator should present himself to act responsibly. Ethics is an integral part of governance. An important dimension of ethics in governance is work ethics. It represents a commitment to fulfill 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. 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 frame to achieve the prescribed and desired objectives. When we see the quality standards of work and services of government sector in India, we find that the quality of services and goods produced by the government organisations are 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 in most of the developing countries.  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. One may very easily escape from the fact that he is not doing his work promptly and efficiently by pretending to be the victim of ‘lesser infrastructure’ endemic present in the system. Most of the government officials do not have a feeling of `one-ness’ with their organisation and their job. They do not put 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.

Work ethics though is an important dimension of governance but not the only one. There are various other forms of ethics related to the governance and personal behaviour which reflects one’s own image as ethical or unethical. When we hear that on a mere train accident happened due to technical glitches and driver’s mistake, the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri offered his resignation admittinig his government’s failure on the front of protecting lives of common public, we get amazed by the level of ethics one can percolate into his character. There are many people who have set precedence in this area of human behavior. They are from every walk of life. When we talk about ethics in general, it is not mandatory that it should only be followed in governance but it should be followed in every kind of system, be it government or private and every kind of behavior, be it public or personal. Ethical behavior of an auto rickshaw driver who always goes with the meter reading while charging his customers is not in any form lesser than a president who denies to use his public status to manage a mere job for any of his relatives. There are many examples to quote on the integrity of various personalities by which one can be motivated. One can be motivated by the exemplary life of APJ Abdul Kalam or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Another can be motivated by the ethics shown by Senior IAS officer Ajay Khemka throughout his career or newly appointed IAS Durga Shakti. These incidences clearly show that age, sex, caste, creed or type of post and kind of profession is not any kind of variable for the ethical behavior.
            In general terms, lack of ethics & integrity is usually understood as ‘corruption’. In India, corruption is an all embracing phenomenon. Taking and giving bribes is the most common factor of it. It is now treated as our way of life. Though corruption is understood as giving bribes to government officials generally, it has broad meaning. Similarly, when we talk about lack of ethics, corruption is not an only attribute to it. Ethics, as whole, is a blend of many aspects. These are fairness & objectivity of governance, responsibility of public servant and his accountability towards public works, compassion of a public servant towards the public it serves, work commitment of public officials and transparency of the entire public machinery. A government official should always work in a symbiotic relationship to the public it deals with. He should be emphatic enough to think himself as a receiver of what he is the giver in present circumstances. A public official should always bear in his mind that he could be at the other end of this ‘giver-taker’ chain of services.

            When we talk about ethics & integrity, we confine our thoughts only to moral obligation of public officials and their administrative system. While most of our focus on administrative morality is on the aspect of probity 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 of the society as a whole. Moral political philosophy assumes that the rulers will not only be moral themselves, but would also be the guardians of morality in a society. In other words, government officials, being on top of the social chain of supremacy, should not only be the actor and protector of ethical values but should also be the guardian of ethics in their society. Frankly speaking, most of the public figures-elected and selected- including politicians of the very top level, top bureaucrats and a common peon do not know the objective behind their existence as a public official. The overall motive of any kind of public job in any part of the world is to serve the public. But we as public official forget this and behave in erratic manner all the time. We cheat our own kinds to establish the fact that we are superior to the others.

The governance is like a giant food web in which each unit complements other units. In governance, the responsibility of ethical behavior and to maintain integrity does not fall only upon the top of chain of command but on every single unit of the entire system. A ‘babu’ is also equally responsible to act ethically on his part like the head of the department. One need not to put super efforts in his work but by doing merely his job with true morality and responsibility, one can set examples of high ethical values. 

             It is a well known fact that lack of ethics & integrity in government functions in day to day life has led India towards the ineffectiveness on various social and economical fronts. Most of the other countries which got their independence at the eve of our freedom or even after that, have marched way ahead of us because of their public performances. India lacks at every front today. The reason behind this may be many but lack of ethical approach in our public behavior is one of them for sure. India can grow faster, our economy can boost further, if we can implement proper ethics in our governance. To enforce & implement ethical values and to check corruption in governance, there are uncountable legislation and agencies- both constitutional & legal. But, legislations alone are not enough, along with these, the ‘will; of public servant is also necessary. Therefore, there is a lesser need for new legislation. Instead, we should be able to incorporate such tools in public governance which can curb the corruption at the very beginning of its happening and also which can restrict the public officials to do such unethical behavior even if they are well committed to do it.
Fostering “sunshine” in governance is one of the finest methods of ensuring higher standards of administrative ethics. Openness is the enemy of corruption. Almost all the leading countries of the world today have ‘Right to Information’. India adopted it in the year 2005 and after that we have seen scams after scams to have been surfaced one after another in so lesser years, which, in absence of RTI Act, could have easily been concealed. Another remedy to the enforcement of ethics in governance may be the full fledged implementation of e-governance in public domain. The presence of electronic media in governance can restrict the public official to being unethical.

Mahatma Gandhi while saying, “Be the change what you wish to see in the world”, have assumed that one should act ethically on his part if he expects ethical behavior from the others. In my opinion, being ethical is not the responsibility of few persons but it is the absolute responsibility of all and further, being ethical should not be an option because it is the necessity of the governance & society to grow as a whole. To talk about ethics is generally considered as an alien element in our behavior. But actually speaking, ethics is not something ‘out of this world’ phenomenon. To adopt ethics in one’s attitude is not a difficult task. By merely doing one’s routine work with responsibility and empathy, one can set high measures of ethics before the department. For example if a doctor is treating his patients properly and on time, he is playing his part for creating an ethical world without putting herculean efforts. Similarly, we can create an ethical ambience in governance by doing our normal routine work with sincerity. Ethics, in my opinion, is pure image of what is one from inside. Ethics is something like electricity, not apparent to the naked eye, but felt instantaneously when power is switched on. 

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