Administrative responsibility and ethical decision making in our public service
Over a period of time a number of decisions by public officials (both political leaders and public servants) have been put under scrutiny to question as to whether they measure with what should be the consensus held view of ethical conduct and administrative responsibility.
Every time we have had to contend with topical issues such as the LENO in the 1980s, the Mogoditshane Land problems, BHC housing issues and now the Ministry of Education sponsorship aspects. There is always an inescapable concern.
This concern is the extent to which public officials were able or unable to exercise the operational ethics of decision making. It is posited here that it’s a given that within the operational and administrative functions of public officials, is the understanding that they are mostly guided by the processes that define professional responsibility in specific and concrete terms.
These processes also define our ethical conduct in decision making including the decisions not to act on certain instances and thus sometimes indirectly explaining our personal ethical measures with respect to any particular issue and the possible extent of our culpability.
In all the above mentioned cases and others that have been subject of debates within our public service’s accountability and ethical conduct, at the center of the debates have been whether or not those public officials with the authority and responsibility to make decisions can be held accountable for their actions or inactions?
There have also been what would appear to be ‘ethical’ responses to these unfortunate incidents, in the form of individuals called to account through various processes including the judicial ones. The question is: have we been able to pin our focus on the men and women whose responsibility was precisely to ensure that these incidents do not take place?
Yes names of those who were brought before the courts in some of these incidents are a matter of common knowledge but have we as a nation been able to ensure that following these incidents we refine and entrench the efficacy of our operational ethics, to the extent that we could be seeing less of these incidents repeating themselves albeit in slightly different contexts? I am going to argue that the fact that we continue to have a ministry such as that of education institutionalizing unethical conduct for this long period, simply puts to question the extent of administrative responsibility of public officials that have been at the helm of this ministry within the same period of this now monster facing current investigations by the DCEC.
Perhaps, more importantly it simply means that much as we have undertaken very expensive measures through the establishment of agencies such as the DCEC and the office of the Ombudsman, invested heavily on general anti corruption campaigns and the productivity movement in general. These interventions are still inadequate in ensuring that our operational ethics and administrative responsibility by public officials are entrenched to the extent that they minimize if not eradicate practices that we currently hear of in the Ministry of Education. I need not go into the specifics of the amounts involved as these are now known items from the media houses (refer to recent Sunday Standard Newspaper).
One possible explanation of the continued inadequacy is the contention by some that in all these cases, expect very few of them, the actual public officials who should have felt the brunt of the law were really never even remotely grilled and sanctioned for their decisions or lack of.
In some cases, we have had people whom the system of governance in the country would appear to be actually rewarding them for their operational ethical conduct, even when perceptions are wildly that their administrative responsibility and involvement in these issues point to unethical conduct of some sort.
I have deliberately not defined the operational nor general ethical conduct at this stage but broadly ethics in this context has to do with concepts such as good, right, and ought.
However, clear as these may seem to be, the practical meaning of these in the arena of everyday life may be indeed be very abstract and hence we tend to deal with them with varying levels of seriousness and systematic reflection.
In dealing with situations that challenge our ethical conduct and administrative responsibility, we ought to reflect long and hard on the fundamental values of our public services and the general social morals.