[Yojana August Summary] Probity in Governance – Explained, pointwise

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Ethics and probity form the cornerstone of the public administration system. In today’s world, governments are playing an active role in the socio-economic development of the country. This makes the role of the government functionaries more challenging, as they are both the facilitators and enforcers of the law and rules. However, it is not easy to imbibe values like empathy and subordination of self to a larger public good in government functionaries. So, Probity in governance is vital for an accountable governance system, which can facilitate socio-economic development.

Thus, many countries have enforced accountability through moral ideas of society based on the Code of Conduct/Ethics for its ministers and civil servants.

The Indian government also has introduced various legislative and institutional methods to ensure probity in governance. But still, there is room for improvement.

This article explains the applicability of the concept of Ethics in Public Administration, particularly in the context of India, and explains how probity is ensured by institutional mechanisms.

About Ethics

The word ‘ethics’ is derived from the original Greek term ‘ethikos’, meaning ‘arising from habit’. Ethics is a set of standards that helps guide the behavior, choices, and actions of individuals.

Ethics in public is not limited to the expression of high moral values alone. It also refers to the framework for holding the public functionaries legally accountable for their acts of omission and commission.

Further, Adherence to key principles of Integrity, Honesty, Objectivity promotes trust and confidence among the stakeholders and enhances credibility.

Probity in governance and Ethics

Probity in Governance is defined as adherence to ethical and moral values like honesty, integrity, rectitude, uprightness, etc.

It is absolutely essential for an efficient and effective system of governance. Ethics and probity cannot be seen in isolation. Both are intertwined and have to be seen as complementary to each other.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its Second Report on Ethics suggested the principles for ethics in the governance and stated that:

“Any framework of ethical behavior must include the following elements:

  1. Codifying ethical norms and practices.
  2. Disclosing personal interest to avoid conflict between public interest and personal gain.
  3. Creating a mechanism for enforcing the relevant codes.
  4. Providing norms for qualifying and disqualifying a public functionary from office”
Code of conduct/Ethics around the globe
Probity in governance_1
Source: Yojana

The General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. Article 8 of the Resolution refers to “Codes of Conduct for public officials

In UK: The Committee on Standards in Public Life in the United Kingdom, popularly known as the Nolan Committee, outlined the seven principles of public life. Further, the country also has Ministerial Code for legislators.

Apart from that, the Code of Conduct/Ethics for its Ministers, legislators, and civil servants are prescribed in many countries. For instance, a Code of Conduct in the US Senate,  Spain’s Code of Good Governance for Ministers and Senior officers, etc.

Code of conduct/Ethics in India to ensure accountability
Probity in governance
Source: Yojana
For legislators

The Government of India has prescribed a Code of Conduct, applicable to Ministers both in the Union Government and State Government.

  • It envisages disclosure of assets and liabilities by the Minister,
  • S/he also has to disclose the connections with the business which he was interested in before joining the Government.
  • Further, S/he should not accept any contributions or gifts for himself or any family member, etc.
Code of Conduct for the Civil Servants (CCS)

Similarly, India also has the Code of Conduct for the Civil Servants (CCS). But it has evolved over time.

  • A compendium of instructions containing ‘dos and don’ts’ for Civil Servants was issued in the 1930s and collectively called ‘Conduct Rules‘.
  • After the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee, the Conduct rules were revised and enlarged, resulting in CCS Conduct Rules 1964. These rules were revised from time to time and followed even today. A few notable revisions include,
    • Requirement of observing courtesy,
    • Prohibiting demanding and accepting dowry,
    • Prohibiting sexual harassment of women employees (After the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines)
    • Recently, prohibition to employ children below 14 years of age as domestic help (in view of the amendment to the Prohibition of Child Labour Act).
  • The CCS Code of Conduct (1964) explicitly or implicitly enshrined the principles enunciated in the UN declaration, Nolan Committee recommendations, and Code of Good Governance of Spain
  • The Conduct rules also prescribe Major and minor penalties for any deviation from the conduct rules.
Other legislative and institutional frameworks
Other initiatives

Apart from these initiatives, the government has taken to improve transparency and accountability. For instance,

  • Doing away with interviews in certain entry-grade positions has tremendously enhanced transparency in the selection process.
  • Use of Information Technology by municipal bodies for issuing birth and death certificates and payment of property tax.
Issues linked to the probity in governance
  1. The Committee on Prevention of Corruption (1964) also known as ‘Santhanam Committee’ had observed:

    The lack of moral earnestness, which has been a conspicuous feature of recent years, is perhaps the greatest single factor which hampers the growth of strong traditions of integrity and efficiency.”

  2. The norms of ‘right conduct’ cannot be enforced through the rigid enforcement of laws and rules alone. For instance,
    1. Values can not be codified and are subject to interpretation, situations of conflict do arise.
    2. Honesty can’t simply be a mandate emanating out of a government order. Instead, it has to come from within. Changes in attitudes are the key.
  3. The entire process of awarding the penalties under the CCS conduct rules is rather tedious and time-consuming.
Suggestions to improve probity in governance
  1. Avoid conflict of interest in all circumstances and at all times. It can be avoided by the following steps,
    • The official position should not be used for private purposes.
    • Government functionaries should be careful about their relationships with stakeholders
    • Decisions should never be driven by gains for a select few or specific segments of society.
  2. Regarding penalties: Procedural issues in the CCS conduct rules can be addressed by laying down the timelines for each stage of the process and more importantly by monitoring that the timelines
  3. There is no code of Ethics prescribed for civil servants in India, although such codes exist in other countries. So, the Indian government should take proactive steps in creating one.
  4. The Consultation Paper on ‘Probity in Governance’ issued in 2001 by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution highlighted certain necessary suggestions. These include,
    1. A law is necessary for providing the confiscation of illegally acquired assets of public servants,
    2. India has to strengthen the Criminal Judicial System.
    3. Enactment of certain essential legislations such as a
      • Public Interest Disclosure Act – The Act encourages and facilitates the disclosure of information by public officials about suspected wrongdoing in the public sector
      • Freedom of information Act – The Act will facilitate full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the government.
  5. Apart from these the accountability and transparency can be enhanced by
    • Minimizing the discretions in various functions
    • More extensive use of Information technology in all fields of governance
    • Making Citizens’ charter more elaborate with clear timelines for delivery of services and related activities

There is a strong legal and institutional framework for ensuring probity in India. It needs to be strengthened and made more effective by nudging people to follow the laws of the land and making punishments for the delinquents very severe.

Terms to know:

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