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The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system


Increased concern about corruption and the decline of confidence in public administration has prompted many governments to review their approaches to ethical conduct.

To assist these processes, a set of principles has been developed by the OECD to help countries review the institutions, systems and mechanisms they have for promoting public service ethics.

The principles can be adapted to national conditions, and countries can find their own ways to balance the various aspirational and compliance elements so as to arrive at an effective framework that suits their own circumstances.

The principles are, of course, not sufficient in themselves but provide a means for integrating ethics management into the broader public management environment.

Ethical standards for public service should be clear

  • Public servants need to know the basic principles and standards they are expected to apply to their work and where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie.
  • A concise, well-publicised statement of core ethical standards and principles that guide public service, for example in the form of a code of conduct, can accomplish this by creating a shared understanding across government and within the broader community.

Ethical standards should be reflected in the legal framework

  • The legal framework is the basis for communicating the minimum obligatory standards and principles of behaviour for every public servant.
  • Laws and regulations could state the fundamental values of public service and should provide the framework for guidance, investigation, disciplinary action and prosecution.

Ethical guidance should be available to public servants

  • Professional socialization should contribute to the development of the necessary judgement and skills enabling public servants to apply ethical principles in concrete circumstances.
  • Training facilitates ethics awareness and can develop essential skills for ethical analysis and moral reasoning. Impartial advice can help create an environment in which public servants are more willing to confront and resolve ethical tensions and problems.
  • Guidance and internal consultation mechanisms should be made available to help public servants apply basic ethical standards in the workplace.              The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system

Public servants should know their rights and obligations when exposing wrongdoing

  • Public servants need to know what their rights and obligations are in terms of exposing actual or suspected wrongdoing within the public service.
  • These should include clear rules and procedures for officials to follow, and a formal chain of responsibility. Public servants also need to know what protection will be available to them in cases of exposing wrongdoing.

Political commitment to ethics should reinforce the ethical conduct of public servants

  • Political leaders are responsible for maintaining a high standard of propriety in the discharge of their official duties.
  • Their commitment is demonstrated by example and by taking action that is only available at the political level, for instance by creating legislative and institutional arrangements that reinforce ethical behaviour and create sanctions against wrongdoing, by providing adequate support and resources for ethics related activities throughout government and by avoiding the exploitation of ethics rules and laws for political purposes.

The decision-making process should be transparent and open to scrutiny

  • The public has a right to know how public institutions apply the power and resources entrusted to them. Public scrutiny should be facilitated by transparent and democratic processes, oversight by the legislature and access to public information.
  • Transparency should be further enhanced by measures such as disclosure systems and recognition of the role of an active and independent media.        The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system

There should be clear guidelines for interaction between the public and private sectors.

  • Clear rules defining ethical standards should guide the behaviour of public servants in dealing with the private sector, for example regarding public procurement, outsourcing or public employment conditions.
  • Increasing interaction between the public and private sectors demands that more attention should be placed on public service values and requiring external partners to respect those same values.

Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct.

  • An organisational environment where high standards of conduct are encouraged by providing appropriate incentives for ethical behaviour, such as adequate working conditions and effective performance assessment, has a direct impact on the daily practice of public service values and ethical standards.
  • Managers have an important role in this regard by providing consistent leadership and serving as role models in terms of ethics and conduct in their professional relationship with political leaders, other public servants and citizens.              The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system

Management policies, procedures and practices should promote ethical conduct.

  • Management policies and practices should demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to ethical standards. It is not sufficient for governments to have only rule-based or compliance- based structures.
  • Compliance systems alone can inadvertently encourage some public servants simply to function on the edge of misconduct, arguing that if they are not violating the law they are acting ethically.
  • Government policy should not only delineate the minimal standards below which a government official’s actions will not be tolerated, but also clearly articulate a set of public service values that employees should aspire to.                The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system

Public service conditions and management of human resources should promote ethical conduct.

  • Public service employment conditions, such as career prospects, personal development, adequate remuneration and human resource management policies should create an environment conducive to ethical behaviour.
  • Using basic principles, such as merit, consistently in the daily process of recruitment and promotion helps operationalise integrity in the public service.

Adequate accountability mechanisms should be in place within the public service.

  • Public servants should be accountable for their actions to their superiors and, more broadly, to the public. Accountability should focus both on compliance with rules and ethical principles and on achievement of results.
  • Accountability mechanisms can be internal to an agency as well as government-wide, or can be provided by civil society.
  • Mechanisms promoting accountability can be designed to provide adequate controls while allowing for appropriately flexible management.          The Essential Features of an effective Ethics management system

Appropriate procedures and sanctions should exist to deal with misconduct.

  • Mechanisms for the detection and independent investigation of wrongdoing such as corruption are a necessary part of an ethics infrastructure.
  • It is necessary to have reliable procedures and resources for monitoring, reporting and investigating breaches of public service rules, as well as commensurate administrative or disciplinary sanctions to discourage misconduct.
  • Managers should exercise appropriate judgement in using these mechanisms when actions need to be taken.



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