Determinants of ethics in public administration


Ethics in governance (Administrative ethics) has evolved over a long period of time and is influenced during its nurturance and growth by a variety of factors. These are as follows;

  • Historical factors – The long legacy of unethical practices in governance is likely to enhance the tolerance level for administrative immorality. Precedents and traditions set by the top administrators, ministers and legislators also play an important role.

 For instance, Colonial legacy of ICS is still reflected in the conduct of IAS, IPS officers such as red-tapism, apathy towards vulnerable sections etc. Similarly, Spoils System in USA vitiated the ethical milieu of the American Public Administration. This got changed when a disgruntled job seeker assassinated President Garfield in 1881. Garfield’s assassination spurred the process of civil service reforms in the USA with the establishment of US Civil Service Commission in 1883 in order to do away with Spoils system

  • Socio-cultural factors – The administrative class emerges from the society itself. Naturally, societal morality are likely to be reflected in the conduct of administrators.

Socio-religious institutions prevalent in the society are influential instruments of socialisation. If these institutions underscore honesty and ethics, the impact on the mind-set of citizens is likely to be highly positive and powerful.

For example, Protestant ethics mainly focuses on hard work, which has helped several Christian societies to enhance their per capita productivity. Similarly, Judaism has valued performance of physical labour by its followers, the Hindu and Islamic societies, on the other hand, have generally considered physical labour to be of lower rank than the mental work.

  • Legal-Judicial factors– A neatly formulated law, with a clear stress on the norms of fair conduct and honesty, is likely to distinguish chaff from grain in the ethical universe.

 In addition, an efficient and effective judiciary with fast-track justice system will prove to be a roadblock to immorality in public affairs. Conversely, a slow moving judiciary with a concern for letter rather than the spirit of law will dither and delay and even help the perpetrators of crimes by giving them leeway through prolonged trails and benefits of doubt.

  • Political factors– The political leadership is perhaps the single most potent influence on the mores and values of citizens. The administrative system cannot remain immune to the levels of political morality as can be seen in terms of Criminalisation of politics and politicisation of bureaucracy.

 If politicians act as authentic examples of integrity, as happens in the Scandinavian countries, the administrative system cannot remain immune to the levels of political morality. The behaviour of politicians has a demonstration effect on civil servants as can be seen in the conduct of civil servants in Scandinavian countries.

  • Economic factors– The level of economic development of a country is likely to have a positive correlation with the level of ethics in the governance system. A lower level of economic development may tempt the less privileged sections of society to forsake principles of honest conduct while fulfilling their basic needs of existence and security.

Similarly, with the advent of liberalising economic regime, there is a growing concern about following the norms of integrity in industry and trade on account of the international pressures. For instance, WTO nations are expected to follow integrity in trade transactions (Avoiding Dumping, financial support to domestic industries etc.) under WTO regime. Fred Riggs termed this, as an `exogenous’ inducements to administrative change.