Public Sector Ethics: Finding and Implementing Values

Public Sector Ethics: Finding and Implementing Values

Public Sector Ethics: Finding and Implementing Values

Public Sector Ethics: Finding and Implementing Values

Synopsis

Public sector ethics has become an increasingly crucial issue since Watergate. Whether it be the recommendations of an ombudsman or the unearthing of a ministerial misdoing, ethics in the public sector is a topic under constant scrutiny the media, the public and the public sector itself.This book provides a balance between theoretical perspectives on public sector ethics, experiences of implementation and suggestions for ways forward. While not a 'how to' guide per se, it does offer guidelines based on theoretical consideration and practical experience which could be of use to those teaching ethics within the public sector, structuring ethics programs or codes or implementing such activities.

Excerpt

Over the past three decades, serious questions have been asked about the performance of public institutions in most liberal democracies. The confidence produced by success in war of the few democracies that survived the 1930s and the remarkable economic and social progress of old and new democracies during the 1950s and 1960s was chastened by the apparent inability of the United States to win the Vietnam war and its internal war against poverty. Scandals and ethical failures took on greater significance. In many Western democracies, the stock market crashes of 1987 and property crashes of the early 1990s exposed weaknesses in business and in some governments whose ‘business-like’ approach led senior ministers into activities which were all too much like those of the failed businessmen (whose business empires were as ephemeral as the lies and accountants’ statistics that had appeared to support them). In the United Kingdom, the unravelling of the conservative government exposed personal venality that earned the nickname ‘sleaze’. In Western Australia, the government’s involvement in ultimately failed businesses (most spectacularly Bond Corporation) was first praised and then vilified as ‘WA Inc’. In Queensland, the long tolerated corruption of police and some political circles were exposed by the Fitzgerald Enquiry into police corruption from 1987 to 1989. The sudden decline in the fortunes of East Asian tigers in 1997 and 1998 led to widespread recognition of governmental corruption.

The public reaction to concerns about entrepreneurs, public servants and politicians tends to follow a similar pattern. It begins with outrage at outcomes (eg the squandering of money by business in takeover booms or by corrupt governments). Then follows the search for culprits and calls for tougher sanctions enforceable by law. When the limitations of the enforcement of such laws becomes apparent, there is a call for improved ethics. This is generally assumed to involve the writing of a code of ethics. These are often criticised unless they include tough penalties on the unethical. It is rarely appreciated that such penalties essentially involve a return to legal regulation and enforcement without legal safeguards, a system which has in any case been found to be wanting. Finally, it is, often dimly, appreciated that the problems are not solely a matter of individual conduct and the sanctions (legal or otherwise) that can be applied. We would argue in this volume that the problems and solutions are as much institutional as they are individual. Improving ethics must be linked to institutional and management reform. Indeed, we

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