ethical issues in public administration | international code of conduct for public officials | Maxim of Legality | Maxim of Rationality | Maxim of Responsibility | Maxim of Accountability | Maxim of Work Commitment | Maxim of Excellence | Maxim of Fusion | Maxim of Responsiveness | Maxim of Resilience | Maxim of Utilitarianism | Maxim of Compassion | Maxim of National Interest | Maxim of Justice | Maxim of Transparency | Maxim of Integrity | IAS TARGET IAS Target

Ethical Concerns in Public Administration

Public administration is a profession that offers an unusual array of opportunities to make moral or immoral decisions, to make ethical or unethical choices, and to do good or evil things to people. Public servants are servants of the public, of government, their immediate organizations, and the law. Their role is traditionally conceptualized as part of an interconnected structure existing alongside but outside of the private sphere.
In Western society, the dominance of democratic theory means that it is assumed public servants share the values of wider society while also recognizing the need for representative government (Gortner 2001). Though public servants perform numerous tasks and undertake a multitude of responsibilities, there are common elements to their work.

'International Code of Conduct for Public Officials' has following general principles:

  • A public office, as defined by national law, is a position of trust, implying a duty to act in the public interest. Therefore, the ultimate loyalty of public officials shall be to the public interests of their country as expressed through the democratic institutions of government.
  • Public officials shall ensure that they perform their duties and functions efficiently, effectively, and with integrity, in accordance with laws or administrative policies. They shall at all times seek to ensure that public resources for which they are responsible are administered in the most effective and efficient manner.
  • Public officials shall be attentive, fair, and impartial in the performance of their functions and, in particular, in their relations with the public. They shall at no time afford any undue preferential treatment to any group or individual or improperly discriminate against any group or individual, or otherwise abuse power and authority vested in them (United Nations 1996). Currently, the concept of ethics has extended itself to involve all major areas of human existence. There are certain prominent aspects of ethics in public administration.

These are summarised as following maxims:

Maxim of Legality and Rationality: An administrator will follow the law and rules that are framed to govern and guide various categories of policies and decisions.
Maxim of Responsibility and Accountability: An administrator would not hesitate to accept responsibility for his decision and actions. He would hold himself morally responsible for his actions and for the use of his discretion while making decisions. Moreover, he would be willing to be held accountable to higher authorities of governance and even to the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of his decisions and actions.
Maxim of Work Commitment: An administrator would be committed to his duties and perform his work with involvement, intelligence, and dexterity. It is well explained by Swami Vivekananda. He observed, “Every duty is holy, and devotion to duty is the highest form of worship.” This would also entail respect for time, punctuality, and fulfillment of promises made. Work is considered not as a burden but as an opportunity to serve and constructively contribute to society.
Maxim of Excellence: A bureaucrat and administrative officer would ensure the highest standards of quality in administrative decisions and action and would not compromise with standards because of convenience or complacency. In a competitive international environment and the administrative system should faithfully adhere to the requisites of Total Quality Management.
Maxim of Fusion: An administrator would reasonably bring about a combination of individual, organizational and social goals to help evolve agreement of ideals and imbibe in his behavior a commitment to such a fusion. In the situation of conflicting goals, a concern for ethics should govern the choices made. 
Maxim of Responsiveness and Resilience: An administrator would respond successfully to the demands and challenges from the external as well as the internal environment. He would adapt to environmental transformation and yet sustain the ethical norms of conduct. In situations of deviation from the prescribed ethical norms, the administrative system would show flexibility and bounce back into the accepted ethical mold at the earliest opportunity.
Maxim of Utilitarianism: While devising and implementing policies and decisions, an administrator will certify that these lead to the greatest good (happiness, benefits) of the greatest number.
Maxim of Compassion: An administrator, without violating the prescribed laws and rules, would establish compassion for the poor, the disabled, and the weak while using his discretion in making decisions. At least, he would not grant any benefits to the stronger section of society only because they are strong and would not deny the due consideration to the weak, despite their weakness.
Maxim of National Interest: Nevertheless, universalistic in orientation & liberal in outlook, a civil servant, while performing his duties, would keep in view the impact of his action on his nation’s strength and prestige.
Maxim of Justice: Executives who are responsible for the formulation and execution of policies and decisions of governance would make ensure that respect is shown to the principles of equality, equity, fairness, impartiality, & objectivity, and no special favors are given on the basis of status, position, power, gender, class, caste, or wealth.
Maxim of Transparency: An administrator will make decisions and implement them in a transparent manner so that those affected by the decisions and those who wish to evaluate their rationale will be able to understand the reasons behind such decisions and the sources of information on which these decisions were made.
Maxim of Integrity: An administrator would accept an administrative action on the basis of honesty and not use his power, position, and discretion to serve his personal interest and the illegitimate interests of other individuals or groups.