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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, raises matters that directly or indirectly relate to ethics and effective governance.

Excessive Security

  • Most countries grant protection to civil servants and refrain from punishing them for the common lapses in the performance of their duties. Besides, there are no punishments prescribed for non performance or for low productivity.
  • Article 311 of the Indian Constitution makes it almost impossible to remove a civil servant. A sense of over‑security pervades the personnel system and the inquiry system is so dilatory and cumbersome that it is devoid of any threat or fear.
  • Resultantly, a low level of discipline in most government organisations is witnessed. And when corruption permeates all the echelons of administrators in the organisations, the potential efficacy of internal control becomes woefully meagre.

Misinterpretation of Role and Obligation

  • Civil servants frequently engage themselves in actions that are unethical and against public interest. Overtime, they get used to defining their role and responsibilities in a parochial manner that is either self-centred, group-centred or organisation-centred and never people-centred.
  • Since all-important professional groups, including the politicians, also adopt a tunnel vision in perceiving social reality, there are hardly any countervailing forces for the prevention or correction of a parochial interpretation of public interest by the administrative personnel. As a result, both ethics and accountability suffer.
  • There is a general tendency among administrators to view public interest from a narrow angle and tunnel vision. Their specialisation and the specific goals of their organisations prompt them to focus on the achievement of narrow organisational goals.
  • In this process, the issue of public interest may get submerged under organisational interest. The Excise Department of a state, for example, may be interested in opening more wine and beer shops in order to earn more revenue, and thus may ignore the impact this expansion of sale network of intoxicants would have on the physical and moral health of citizens.
  • 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 the 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.

Trivial and Substantive Ethics

  • The conduct rules for civil servants emphasise upon meticulously following the norms of good conduct. Some of these rules have remained unchanged since long and now appear to be ridiculous. No wonder, these are ignored by all.                OBSTACLES TO ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY
  • Likewise, there is a stress that official property; equipment and stationery should not be used for personal purposes. These relate, inter alia, to the use of official vehicles and phone. Such rules are ‘conspicuous, more in their violation than in their enforcement, and compared to broader issues of ethics and morality, these are at best, examples of trivial or petty morality.
  • Not that they should be ignored but they must not be permitted to replace the more crucial ethical concerns of duty, fairness, objectivity and commitment.
  • In matters of administrative ethics, occasionally we tend to be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. It means we delve into the trivial rather than more relevant and serious issues of ethics. We need to guard against this trend.

Employees’ Unions

  • Another impediment in the way of enforcing discipline and codes of conduct is the tendency of employees’ unions to resist the managerial action against their members even when they have blatantly violated ethical norms.
  • Assertive or aggressive unions can throttle any action, even a legitimate one, against their members. As a result, the supervisory level leadership in public systems gets exasperated and starts ignoring the unethical actions of their subordinates.                OBSTACLES TO ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY
  • In a political system, where employees’ unions are aligned with powerful political parties — whether in power or in opposition—administrative leadership refrains from taking a tough stand even against the culprit employees for fear of compulsive back-tracking or humiliation.
  • It has been observed that collective bargaining agreements seriously jeopardise the authority of managers to discipline their employees. Occasionally, the courts also show greater concern for the protection of the so-called ‘Constitutional’ rights of the workers than those of the citizens, irrespective of the ethical issues involved.


  • Corruption is the abuse of official authority for personal gains. It is betrayal of public trust for protecting private interests. Corruption is currently viewed as a universal phenomenon, although the nature and quantum of corruption differ from nation to nation.
  • The international and the Indian national press are replete with instances of corruption in government. Politicians and administrators are generally in league with each other in perpetuating corruption.
  • Citizens thus become the victims of immorality in governance. It also denotes the existence of corruption in cross-national settings.
  • 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 pressures and cajoling. Likewise, there may be only a few politicians who actually apply brakes to the bandwagon of administrative corruption.          OBSTACLES TO ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY

One can often witness ‘Weather-cock’ syndrome with regard to government corruption.

When the top rung of the political or administrative executive gets tough on corruption, the middle and lower level hierarchy in both the systems gets cautious about issues of ethics.

Greed is curbed by fear but only as long as fear is genuinely feared.


  • While corruption is endemic in government organisations, there is another ethical blemish that afflicts, though rarely, the administrative system.
  • Certain government servants, working in sensitive organisations like ordnance factories, nuclear energy establishments and defence forces, may pass on critical secrets to enemies in exchange for pecuniary benefits or for the sale of extraterritorial loyalty.          OBSTACLES TO ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY
  • In contemporary times of global competition, even economic subversion is possible. There may be, within the government, attempts to subvert friendly relations with foreign countries.
  • In extreme cases, civil servants may subvert the government programmes like family planning or prevention of illegal migration. There can be many other cases involving ethical issues in public administration. Attempts should be made to devise strategies to combat such subversions.




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