Monday, 28 March 2016

Ethical challenges in governance

Ethical Challenges in Governance

     Ethics refers to those moral principles which are provided by external sources and govern a person’s conduct. Governance refers to processes of interaction and decision making as well as structures and systems which constitute a state or an organisation. Many of these ethical challenges necessitate non-economic goals. However no code of ethics or ethical policy can bring compliance with law and high ethical standards. Commitment to ethics is inspired by top leadership.

(1) India’s rank in corruption perception
     Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (C.P.I.) measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide. In 2016, India ranked 76th out of 168 countries. In 2015, India ranked 76th out of 175 countries, compared to China (100th), Pakistan (126th), Bangladesh (145th), Sri Lanka (85th), Nepal (126th) and Bhutan (30th). This is the second least corruption rank for India in the whole of South Asia. In 2013, India was ranked 94th out of 175 countries. In 2012, India was 94th ranked out of 174. In 2011, India ranked 95th out of 182 countries.

The above indicates that India has a substantial challenge to governance in terms of high corruption (absence of ethics). In India, corruption has been aggravated by three factors:
1.  There is an enormous asymmetry of power in our society. Nearly 90% of our people are in the unorganised sector and are very poor and not highly literate.
2.  We have inherited a colonial legacy of unchallenged authority. People in power exercise their power arbitrarily.
3.  In the early decades after independence India chose a set of policies which put the citizens at the mercy of the government. There was regulation in all sectors of economy, leading to widespread corruption.

(2) Public Administrators as moral agents
There is a difference between efficient governance and ethically driven governance.  In many countries of European Union, the primary focus is on processes and procedures for improving governance rather than on asserting ethically driven standards of governance. But a government can have political legitimacy only when its legislators and civil servants act professionally and ethically. Public administration has to be a moral/ ethical enterprise. A public administrator has to be a moral agent, with a special moral status. He or she has to take a clear moral position in resolving issues as inequality, poverty, injustice and corruption, in addition to having skills, efficiency and strategies.

Legislators too are moral agents. But they are also expected to act as advocates for specific constituents in seeking government benefits. A public administrator serves best as a model of moral agency in governance (than a legislator).

Therefore the profiles and proficiencies of public officials have to meet the criteria of clear moral position as also of having communication and collaborative and other skills and strategies. In other words, public administrators are the class who have to meet the ethical challenges in governance more than the other classes like political or business people, though the latter also have to give their support.

Chapter 3, verse 21 of Geeta says:
“Whatever deed is done by good people (in public offices), the community follows. Thus public officials have a much heavy moral load on their shoulders to carry.”

Often maintaining professional ethics comes in conflict with desire to maintain career. Sometimes there is a conflict between choosing to serve the best interests of the community and being responsible to the government of the day. This has the danger of development of an unhealthy politician – administrator nexus.

(3) Ethical Principals in Public Life
Nolan Committee of UK, in 1994 gave the following seven principles of public life:
1.   Selflessness
2.   Integrity
3.   Objectivity
4.   Accountability
5.   Openness
6.   Honesty
7.   Leadership

In 2012, Belgian Directors’ Association (GUBERNA) produced a Director’s Tool kit about ethical principles to be followed by individual directors. The details of Toolkit are as below:
1.  Act ethically and with integrity
2.  Have high standards of honesty and loyalty
3.  Have respect for rules
4.  Comply with procedures and avoid and resolve conflict of interest.
5.  Have irreproachable behaviour with regard to law and rules.
6.  Be incorruptible and free of all pressures while taking decisions.
7.  Be faithful to commitments.
8.  Be trustworthy and act in a manner so as to preserve trust and confidence required by office.
9.  Be responsible and act with diligence, caution and reserve, refrain from holding indiscrete and indelicate conversations. Assume consequences for your behaviour. Discharges duties to the best of your abilities and with discernment.

Broadly there are four sets of ethical principles (ethical framework). These sets are as follows:
1.  Principles of justice and fairness.
2.  Principles of truth
3.  Principles of service to the common good (service in public interest).
4.  Principles of trusteeship (trustworthiness)

We elaborate each of these sets of ethical principles as follows:
(3.1) Principles of justice and fairness:
a.        Rule of Law
b.       Accountability for the proper exercise of authority and use of public resources.
c.        Equity in administrating rewards and punishments.
d.       Equity of rights and opportunities
e.        Participation in the consultative process for collective decision-making
f.         Merit system in contacting personnel.
(3.2) Ethical principles of truth:
a.     Truthfulness in reporting the facts.
b.     Honesty in managing resources
c.      Evidence-based decision making
d.     Transparency of decision-making and resource management for public scrutiny.
e.     Safeguard for whistleblowers.
(3.3) Ethical principles of service to the common good:
   (Service in public interest)
a.   Consensus-building in relation to the common good.
b.  Application of human development indicators
c.   Inclusiveness
d.  Spirit of service
e.   Respect for human dignity
(3.4)Ethical principles of Trusteeship (trustworthiness):
a. Legal contract between government and public servant.
b.     Responsible stewardship
c. Efficient and effective service of the public interest.
d.     Transparency regarding possible conflict of interest.
e. Recognition of merit and adequate remuneration.

(4) India’s Political System and Corruption
In India, political system suffers from many ills and inadequacies which pose major ethical challenges to governance. Some of the challenges are as below:
(i)      Nexus between politics and crime.
(ii)    Immunity of members of parliament and members of State legislatives from proceedings in a court.
(iii)  Funding, Donations and gifts to political persons and parties by industry.
(iv) Weak anti-defection law.
(v)   No code of conduct for ministers.
(vi) Crony capitalism.
(vii)                        Appointment in high posts on considerations other than merit (like Lokayukt).

(4.1) Findings of Vohra Committee Report on nexus between crime and politics in India.
(i)      On the basis of the extensive experience gained by our various concerned intelligence, investigative and enforcement agencies, it is apparent that crime Syndicates and Mafia organizations have established themselves in various parts of the country.
(ii)    The various crimes Syndicates/Mafia organizations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with the governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity (as recently exemplified by the activities of the Memon Brothers and Dawood Ibrahim)
(iii)                                        While the CBI and IB and the various agencies under the department of revenue in their normal course of functioning, came across information relating to the linkages of the Crime Syndicate/Mafia Organizations there is presently no system under which they are expected to pass on such information to an identified nodal agency. Sharing of such information is presently of an occasional nature and no evidence is available of the same having been put to any operational use.

(4.2) Immunity enjoyed by Legislators in Parliament and State Legislatures Article  105 (2)
No Member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any Committee thereof and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any reports, paper, votes or proceedings.

Similar provisions exist in Article 194(2) for members of State legislatures.
Immunity covers corrupt acts committed by MPs in connection with duties in the House or otherwise.

(4.3)Other Ethical challenges:
(i)      Bribery
(ii)    Coercion
(iii)  Insider trading by leakage of confidential data.
(iv)  Discrimination
(v)    Nepotism
(vi)  False returns of income, false statements of accounts.
(vii)                        Accumulation of profits by illegal means.

(4.4)Diversity, equality (especially of genders), eradication of poverty, environment are increasingly occupying attention in ethical governance. Corruption in judiciary is another complex area for governance.

(4.5)The security provided to government employees under article 311 of the Constitution results in long delays in punishing the officials for corruption and other charges. Often the delay is compounded when a criminal case for corruption is also investigated by police against a government official, because there is a delay in sanction for prosecution.

There is also an inordinate delay in taking up the cases of irregularities pointed at by audit reports, as public Accounts Committee is overloaded with work.

Employees unions and teachers Unions also oppose when serious disciplinary is taken against their members:

(5)Ethical Corporate Governance
In addition to government, governance also includes corporate governance. On 29th October, 2007, Central Vigilance Committee, Government of India circulated a note on “Corporate Government and Ethics challenges and Imperatives”. Kumar Mangalam Birla Committee constituted by Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) expressed concerns about standards of financial reporting and accountability by some of companies. As a result, some companies raised capital from the market and investors suffered because managements performed much worse than past reported figures. Bad corporate governance was also highlighted when promoters share were allotted at prices much below the market value. Many companies did not pay heed to investors’ grievances.

(6)Architecture to meet ethical challenges
Along with their ethical framework of four sets of principles, we need the following to complete the architecture of our ethics, relevant for governance.
1)       A code of conduct.
2)       A set of established anti-corruption laws.
3)       Established administrative procedures, including procedures for sanction on reprehensible acts.
4)       Mechanism for whistle-blowing (Ombudsman)
5)       Mechanisms for collaboration and coordination between existing and anti corruption agencies also for evaluation.

(7)Socialisation of ethical framework
To meet ethical challenges effectively, we also need socialization of ethical framework and code of conduct through:
1)  Consciousness raising activities.
2)  Transforming dysfunctional mental models.
3)  Development of intensive motivation to apply an ethical framework
4)  Advocacy through moral leadership.

(8) Some steps recently taken in India to meet ethical challenges to governance
In India some recent anti-corruption steps have been taken in the right direction. The Right to Information Act has been enacted. The introduction of e-governance in many areas of public administration has resulted in reduced corruption. Thirdly the Supreme Court has ordered electoral reforms on seven occasions since 2003.
1.  March 2003: A voter has a fundamental right to know candidates’ qualifications, assets, liabilities and criminal antecedents, if any.
2.  July 5, 2013: Freebies in poll manifestos vitiate electoral process; EC to frame guidelines after consulting with political parties.
3.  July 10, 2013: Automatic disqualification of MPs/ MLAs convicted by crimes attracting punishment of two years or above.
     Section 8(4) of Representation of the People Act that allowed a convicted MP/MLA to continue in office, declared unconstitutional.
4.  September 13, 2013: Knowing about a voter’s natural right and candidatures will be rejected if they refuse to disclose any information on their election affidavit.
5.  September 27, 2013: Voters have right to not back any candidate. The none of the above (NOTA) option to be enabled in voting machines.
6.  March 10, 2014: One year deadline set for lower courts to complete trial in cases involving MPs, MLAs.
7.  February 5, 2015: A candidates’ election can be declared null and void due to non-disclosure of criminal antecedents.

(9)Other important steps to help in meeting ethical challenges
Free press (Media) and Vigilant Civil Society can also contribute to put pressure on the government to meet ethical challenges. This requires a closer interaction between public services, civil society and other sections of intelligentsia.

Social and religious organisations can also play a part. Strict enforcement of penal provisions can act as deterrent.

Moral education must be separated from the start of life, and to this end, a restructuring of the educational syllabus is imperative. Value based learning and teaching is essential and should be brought in by reorienting our formal education system.

Date: 28.03.2016 

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