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TOWARDS NEW DIMENSIONS OF ETHICS

Fostering “sunshine” in public administration is one of the finest methods of ensuring higher standards of administrative ethics. Openness is the enemy of corruption. Almost all countries of the world have Freedom of Information or Right to Information Acts.

In the U.S., at the federal level, freedom of information and open hearing provisions are an integral part of the Administrative Procedure Act. In India, the Freedom of Information Act of 2002 was redesigned as Right to Information Act, which was enacted in 2005. Besides, a number of state governments including Goa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have enacted legislations that help in securing accountability of public employees through this device.

Legislation alone is not enough. Its enforcement would require a will on the part of the State, willingness on the part of administrators and an initiative coupled with courage on the part of citizens themselves. The State machinery should be ready to punish those civil servants who obstruct the implementation of Right to Information Act.

The age-old orientation to treat every information, as `secret’ must give way to greater openness and transparency. This would require a substantial transformation of the mind-sets of administrators in order to reorient the thinking of administration at all levels, more particularly at the cutting- edge level.

The movement for the Right to Information cannot succeed unless people themselves become motivated to ask for the fructification of this Right. Even though, it has culminated in the Right to Information Act, there are miles to go before we can ensure its effective implementation. People’s groups, such as the one led by Aruna Roy, will have to continue to take initiative on a massive scale. Even the educational system and the media will need to play a purposive role in this realm.

In the American system, ‘whistle blowing’ by public employees is considered as legitimate and statutorily protected. Public employees are expected to use their voice to protest administrative activities that are illegal or immoral. They can even resort to resignations from their positions to give vent to their protests. And these acts are considered moral and appropriate.

In the American federal government, there functions a hotline, called `Fraud Net’, for preventing fraud, waste and abuse. Through this hotline, employees and others can anonymously report instances of misconduct for investigation to the General Accounting Office. Besides, the American public employees enjoy Constitutional protection on speaking out on matters of public concern like dangers to public health or safety.

In Britain, a new appeals procedure for civil servants has come into effect. Under this procedure, a civil servant could raise concerns, confidentially, with an individual outside his normal hierarchy. When he believes that the response is not satisfactory or reasonable, he may report the matter to the Civil Service Commissioner. The Costitutional Review Commission in India considered the possibility of whistle blowing a statutory activity, but it was not accepted as a viable choice. The need is to develop a fresh perspective on this issue.

OBSTACLES TO ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

Accountability and ethics are closely related. Effective accountability helps the achievement of ethical standards in the governance system. Legislative or parliamentary control through questions, debates and committees provide ample opportunity to the people’s representatives to raise, among other things, issues of ethics and morality in the governance system.

More particularly, the Public Accounts Committee in India, which gives its comments on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its reports, raises matters that directly or indirectly relate to ethics and good governance.

Self-accountability and external accountability are interrelated for it is the latter that imposes expectations on the former. However, there are certain time-tested norms of moral conduct that determine the nature of self-accountability. These precepts of moral philosophy may be considered as internal checks.

Essentially, however, it is the synthesis of external as well internal checks that determine the parameters of administrative ethics. The higher the level of ethics, the lower the need for strong instruments of external accountability and control. Conversely, lower the level of ethics, higher the need for potent external means for ensuring accountability.

Max Weber had maintained that the outside (extra-agency) checks on public administration were inadequate. Hence, the value of self-accountability is immense. The desire to be ethical in one’s profession should spring from within. Seventy years ago,in  John Gaus his book, The Frontiers of Public Administration (1936) had remarked that public employees were expected to exercise an “inner check” rooted in professional standards of administration and ideals. This type of emphasis needs to be seriously reasserted.

David Rosenbloom and Robert S. Kravchuk  raise a pertinent question: “Why is it difficult to guard the guardians?” There are certain intrinsic features of the administrative system that make it difficult for the external regulating institutions to control it and also ensure its accountability. A few of these imponderables are discussed below:-

  • Special Expertise and Information Public administrators are often experts in their specific area of functioning and it is difficult for any outside agency to surpass them in their areas of specialisation. Moreover, they generate and control crucial information that may be difficult to be accessed or even comprehended by law regulators, much less by the common citizens. Although the Right to Information Act (or similar legislations) is there in most countries, there is cost to be paid for obtaining information and verifying its authenticity. The administrators do not easily part with such information and are too keen to let their citadels remain impregnable.
  • Full-Time Status Most public administrators are full-time, while outsiders cannot devote equal amount of time in overseeing their activities – legislators, judiciary, Comptroller and Auditor General of India and even the media have relatively less time to keep a watch over the actions of administrators. They cannot seek all the crucial information from administrators and even if they get it, they do not have sufficient time to process and use it effectively.
  • Massive Expansion of Bureaucracy In a country such as India, the role of public administration has been increasing incessantly. Its regulatory, developmental, promotional and entrepreneurial responsibilities have been multiplying and with that also its size. The number of public personnel as well as the agencies they work for have gone up so much that it is difficult for the political executive or the legislature to exercise effective control over them. Likewise, in large-sized organisations like Public Works Department, Income Tax Department, Police Department, etc., it is impossible for higher officials to keep an eye on the conduct of their subordinates. The geographical distribution of government agencies also makes the span of control too wide to be handled effectively. Even computerisation of all personnel records cannot ensure surveillance over the conduct of all personnel.
  • Lack of Coordination The number and kinds of agencies to ensure probity in public administration have also been increasing continually. In India, for instance the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission, State Lok Ayuktas, State Vigilance Bodies and Anti-Corruption Departments are co-existing sans effective coordination among them. The judiciary is slow and there are no fast-track courts for dealing with cases of corruption.
  • The political pressures imposed from above also colour the vision of administrators. Occasionally, one notices that the Police Department, because of pressure from its political bosses is caught between the compulsion of hierarchy and the obligation of duty. The police officials generally succumb to political pressures in order to save their own interests and that of their families. Occasionally, `inconvenient’ civil servants are punished with transfers to `difficult’ locations or postings that may cause problems to their families
  • Orthodox Loyalty In India and in most developing countries, public employees are socialised into developing loyalty towards the organisation that they serve and to the superior authority under which they work. It is customary in the Indian society to show respect to the superior and to refrain from criticism of one’s boss in a public organisation. Any voice against the superiors is considered as an act of insubordination. In such a cultural climate, even the honest and conscientious employees do not speak out against unethical practices of their peers and seniors. And the undue compassion occasionally shown to the subordinates on their errors of omission and commission also tend to strengthen the sinews of a `soft state’. All this represents a misplaced loyalty and magnanimity that eats into the vitals of the ethical order in public administrative system. As the Indian democracy becomes more mature, it is hoped that whistle blowing will be considered a legitimate and rational activity in the future, and will be protected under the laws and rules

The Constitution, laws, policies, manifestoes of political parties and speeches of politicians are replete with direct or indirect references to ethical basis of governance, but in practice, however, there is a gross violation of moral precepts in the functioning of the politico-administrative system. The critical reasons behind administrative corruption are scaricity of what people want from public administrators and the inconveniences involved in the normal channels of administrative decisions. As Michael Johnston (1982) explains –

The demand for government’s rewards frequently exceeds the supply, and routine decision-making processes are lengthy, costly, and uncertain in their outcome. For these reasons, legally sanctioned decision-making processes constitute a ‘bottleneck’ between what people want and what they get. The temptation to get around the bottleneck – to speed things up and make favourable decisions more probable – is built into this relationship between government and society. To get around the bottleneck, one must use political influence – and corruption, which by definition cuts across established and legitimate processes, is a most effective form of influence.

In India, B.B. Vohra, the then Home Secretary of India, had presented in 1995, a report on the activities of crime syndicates/mafia organisations which had developed links with or were being protected by government functionaries and political personalities. The conclusions of the Vohra Committee reflect a moral crisis in the Indian governance system. Not that the decline is irreversible, strong and honest efforts can sincerely halt the process of decline. Certain Asian countries have already proven that it is possible to combat and curb corruption. It requires effective political and administrative will to do so.

In a civic culture or democratic society like India’s, politicians who get elected on people’s support and vote, are primarily concerned with strengthening their constituencies, and thus are keen to dole out benefits to those who are their supporters. Administrators, on the other hand, are keener to follow the prescribed procedures. In situations of conflict between the politicians and administrators, there is either a stalemate, or eventually, the politicians win.

But the most convenient course for the politician is to win over administration to their side and make them partners or collaborators in corruption. With the protective hands of politicians above them and with a temptation for gaining extra (illegitimate) benefits administrators consciously align with their political masters and indulge in corruption. Very rarely, do the honest and strong administrators stand up to the politician and refuse to succumb to politicians’ pressures and cajoling. Likewise, there may be only a few politicians who actually apply brakes to the bandwagon of administrative corruption.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Al Gore, the U.S. Vice President, advocated through the National Performance Review’s (NPR) version of the NPM, that ethics implied achieving high degree of customer satisfaction. It believed that people – in government or outside – were basically honest and well intentioned and there was no need for wasting time and energy on focusing on corruption. Trusting them is bound to lead to a favourable climate for ethical behaviour. The cost of deterring corruption is too high in terms of red tape that such efforts create. The NPR underscored that reinventing government required innovations, which in turn implied deviations from the grooves of tradition. Distrusting and accusing people for their creative initiatives dampens their enthusiasm for innovation. Trusting the employees as well as the people they serve would help carve a more effective administrative system in the selfgoverning democracy.

FUTURE PERSPECTIVE

When A.D.Gorwala presented his report on Public Administration in India in 1951, he had emphasisd that integrity was one of the cardinal philosophical premises of good administration. It is paradoxical that despite visible decline of moral standards in public life, the mainstream reports on administrative reforms have not focused on ethical issues.

Except for the Santhanam Committee report on the Prevention of Corruption in India in 1964 and a specific segmented report on the theme, the Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee by Acharya Kriplani in 1955, there have been no major efforts at recommending strategies for integrating moral values with the administrative system at various levels. True, the ARC report on Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta was published in 1966, but that again was confined to structural changes rather than bringing about a new ethical order in public systems.

How is the administrative ethics of the twenty-first century likely to be different from that of the twentieth century? The answer is to be found in the increasing convergence of ethical concerns at the cross-national level. Globalisation of the economic order is likely to pave the way for the globalisation of governance issues. Not that there would be universally uniform configurations of the governance systems, much less the bureaucratic systems. But with the mitigation of chasm among nations in the realm of the goals, philosophy and strategies of governance, the ethical concerns are likely to transcend international boundaries.

CONCLUSION

Ethics is a comprehensive concept, encompassing all facets of administration. Emphasis on moral and ethical norms has been an integral part of our tradition. Though vices of corruption, malpractices and bureaupathologies have slowly creeped in our system, the combat measures have not been very effective. Administrative reforms measures have to be holistic enough taking into their purview questions on nature of work ethics, various dimensions of ethics, foci 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 the requirement of the day is. It is not possible to bring into force a Code of Ethics if it is self-serving and is subject to constant external interference and manipulation. A certain degree of autonomy is a pre-requisite for any code to be successful.

We are witnessing a change in the pattern of authority, obedience and discipline. Moreover, globalisation trends have brought in a kind of universalisation of ethical norms and values. Philosophy of governance has transcended international boundaries. Almost every rung of administration is involved in decision-making. The conflict between individual values, organisational standards and societal norms is clearly visible.

Though the code may not reflect a consensus of opinion on ethical issues, it can still provide direction and advice with regard to ethical conduct and assist the administrators in analysing their options and alternatives in the right perspective.


KEY CONCEPTS

Bureaupathologies

The major ills of bureaucracy such as red tape, conflict, duplication, waste and corruption could be called the pathologies of bureaucracy. Victor Thompson termed the negative aspects of Weberian theory of bureaucracy as ‘bureaupathologies’.

Logical Positivism

It is a general philosophical position, also called logical empiricism, developed by members of the Vienna Circle on the basis of traditional empirical thought and the development of modern logic. It confined knowledge to science and used verificationism to reject metaphysics not only as false but meaningless. The importance of science led leading logical positivists to study scientific method and to explore the logic of confirmation theory, which talked of solving the problem of induction (inductive knowledge).

Post-behaviouralism

It refers to the developments that took place as a protest against Behaviouralism. It is an approach to psychology based on the proposition that behaviour is interesting and worthy of scientific research. Behaviouralism as articulated by Easton, tries to organise research in political science on model of natural sciences. It emphasises the need to develop a pure science of politics, giving a new orientation to research and theory building exercises within the discipline. This movement remained prominent till 1960s. The Post-behavioural movement of 1970s rejected the behavioural tendency to stress on what could be easily measured rather than what might be theoretically important. The tendency in Behaviouralists to concentrate on phenomena that were readily observable rather than studying the profound structural factors that contribute to change and stability within the political system was criticized by Post behaviouralism

Utilitarianism

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) made an attempt to create a liberal ethical philosophy called Utilitarianism. The case of this philosophy is the utility principle, which means greatest happiness of the greatest number is good. It is the belief that i) Value of a thing or an action is determined by its utility, and ii) All actions should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness. This philosophy judges everything in terms of its utility or usefulness. It holds that actions are right in proposition, as they tend to promote happiness and wrong, as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness, is intended pleasure and absence of pain and by unhappiness, presence of pain and the deprivation of pleasure


 

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