Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ethical and accountable behaviour in public Services

Current trends and incidents in our public service have made me think back to an article I penned a year ago on the need for public services to commit to ethical and accountable practices. The old or conventional rational for long-term solutions to inculcating ethical and accountable practices in the public services was premised on four main interventions: democratization of the polity, a more vibrant and productive economy, a citizenry that demands high ethical performance from its officials and lastly, the political will to develop and enforce policy measures that directly tackle this problem. These are still relevant to modern day practices.

A combination of the above four interventions and a more sustained program by dedicated public officials through a variety of measures and practices to deal with problems that entrench unethical and lack of accountability by public officials becomes a necessity. These conventional perspective is based on the realisation that ethical and accountability practices often go beyond economic and political considerations and find root in held moral principles that underlie our practices as secular societies of different locations and such principles in part derive their logic from a number of long held beliefs which arguably have religious overtones.

The first of these principles speaks to our behaviour and practices as guided by the fact that as men and women we are creatures that have not only a common ancestry as to our origins, but we also do possess certain universal human traits that includes our creative abilities and frailties. This is so whether you believe in evolution or divine power “creation of the human race and from this perspective we should as a human race find common approaches to how we desire ethical and accountable practices from our public services, irrespective of locality. Ethical and accountable behaviour in this context becomes a global imperative and therefore the ills of corruption, fraud and general malfeasance become our human traits requiring commonality in dealing with them.

The second principle is about us as equal individuals with equal rights and equal opportunity to access state resources for our individual and personal development. This presupposes that actions of public servants must at all times aim to create and provide a platform within which citizens can equally express their competencies and find leverage to maximize their benefit without any encroaching into another’s area of benefit. The ethical behaviour of public servants and the ways in which society expects them to account should be ways through which there is clear recognition and respect for the principle of equality of all before the law. It is common knowledge that most modern constitutions are embedded with the adherence to the principle of equality and questions often arise at whether these are practical principles respected by those in the public offices.

The third principle is that of reciprocity, which says you do unto others what you want them to do unto you. This golden rule is one that extolls public officials to treat members of the public as they would want to be treated themselves if they sought the same services as ordinary citizens. This is one of the cornerstones of modern judicial and ethical systems that set the parameters for both due process and procedural limits of accountability by public officials (elected and appointed). The fourth principle expresses our inalienable right to freedomand that each one of us possesses this as a natural right and operations and any behavioural patterns of public officials cannot and should not annul this right without cause. To this end the global human rights movement and democratization pursuits the world over recognizes freedom of man/woman to rise freely as he\she seeks to domesticate the environment for maximum utility.

Fifthly, is the principle that all governments exists to pursue the welfare of the citizenry and as a moral agent government has the obligation to maximize individuals’ happiness within society through acceptable measures’ of dispensing justice that includes punishment for those who affront the moral and ethical boundaries and reward to those who uphold sanctioned practices of ethical and accountable expectations in both the public services and communities. This is extended through the sixth principle which recognizes that as individuals in public offices as well as ordinary citizens, we are accountable for our own deeds and misdeeds and therefore there is an expectation that when we promote the public good through accepted ethical and accountable behaviour we should be rewarded for such and be as well punished any time we fail society through neglect or disregard of expected practices of ethical and accountable behaviour.

Lastly, is the key principle that says governments are best when made accountable to the people and this extols the old Actonian dictum that says” power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The import here is that governments will be more effective and responsive if they direct and indirect ways of accountability to the public are fully entrenched through both formal and informal outlets. This accountability can be either directly or through the representatives of the citizens in their varied levels and ways. It is the composite of these principles that speaks to the clarion call of most constitutions, old and modern, which has as the cornerstones of their intent calls for liberty, equality and fraternity. These require that the training and development of public officials must entail greater attention to the political and administrative application of these principles on their importance to public officials’ behavioural teachings.

These are the old conventions of what should guide our public officials in ways to uphold and entrench accepted ethical and accountable behaviour as and when they decide and dispense systems and ways of how to deliver public services to the citizens. They must at all times be guided by these seven principles contextualised by specific social and moral dictates of the societies they serve and reconciled with the larger legal framework that defines the parameters of both ethical and accountable behaviour by public officials, in this case our own systems.

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