Ethics In Governance

The exemplary performance by constitutional and statutory institutions and a record of spectacular accomplishments in varied fields, from sport and adventure, and from the fine arts to science and technology are other feathers in the much adorned cap of the country

By Mohan Kanda
  • Good Governance is a process whose quality touches and impacts upon every aspect of life at different levels and in different dimensions
  • Ethics is gaining prominence in debates on Governance in recent years on account of increasing expectations from people in regard to ethical standard
  • There is a move worldwide to restore a measure of trust in the integrity of public institutions and officials, to improve the quality of service
  • The inclusion, by the UPSC of Ethics in the syllabus for the CSE reflects a realisation of the value of ethics in the personality equipment of civil servants

“SO, they (the government) go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful for impotency” – Winston Churchill.
Life, in the absence of an ordered system of governance, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” said Jack Hobbes, the founder of the social contract theory.
Good governance has, times immemorial, figured high on the agenda of governments of countries around the world, as in its absence scourges such as poverty, conflict, violence, unchecked population growth, climate change, and natural disasters flourish, unchecked.

GOOD GOVERNANCE

Good governance means much more than the merely institutions and the precepts that inform the manner in which they discharge their responsibilities. It is not just about efficient and prompt delivery of the goods and services to the citizens. It is a process; a process whose quality touches and impacts upon every aspect of life at different levels and in different dimensions and ensures responsive and competent functioning of all the wings of the states.

The Bhagwad Gita says that “the foundation of good governance is righteousness in public affairs”.
Good governance needs, among other things, a solid foundation of ethical and moral precepts. What is’ good’, however, is known to be a function of time and geography. What was unacceptable a few decades ago, may have become the norm of today’s society. Similarly, things which were regarded as sacred, and noble, some time ago, may be viewed as immoral, and unethical, today.

To draw a parallel from real life, the dimensions of, and the material required for, the foundation of a building will vary over time and space. Likewise, widow remarriage, same-gender marriages, consensual extramarital relationships, consumption of alcohol, the rights of “trans-gender” persons and those of the children of “live-in” parents are all examples of how perceptions of right, legal, moral, good, or otherwise, are not rigid and can assume varying manifestations at different times and in different places. As Shakespeare put it “nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so”.

SUBJECT OF ETHICS

Ethics is clearly an abstract discipline, not amendable to verification/validation by the scientific tools of experiment, observation and inference as handed down by Sir Francis Bacon.

Good governance has, times immemorial, figured high on the agenda of governments of countries around the world, as in its absence scourges such as poverty, conflict, violence, unchecked population growth, climate change, and natural disasters flourish, unchecked

Ethics is gaining prominence in the debates on Governance in recent years on account of increasing expectations from people in regard to ethical standards in public services. There is a general perception across the country that values and standards in the delivery of public services are on the decline. This raises questions about the costs of misconduct on the part of public servants, costs in terms of losses in trust and confidence in public institutions charged with promoting economic and social development. There is a move worldwide to restore a measure of trust in the integrity of public institutions and officials, to improve the quality of service delivery and promote better governance. It can be argued that the perception of a fall in public standards is linked to the shifting role of the State, which is going through a rapid process of reform, liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation along with advances in technology and aspirations of people.

The inclusion, by the UPSC of Ethics in the syllabus for the Civil Service Examination reflects a realisation of the value of ethics in the personality equipment of aspiring civil servants.

All is fair in love and war, if one is to go by what John Lily says in his ‘Eupheus: the Anatomy of Wit’. And with apologies to Lily, I would like to add, in the context of today’s ambience, diplomacy in the arena of external affairs.

Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England in the late 19th century, famously observed, no country has eternal allies, or perpetual enemies; their interests are eternal and perpetual.

Good governance needs, among other things, a solid foundation of ethical and moral precepts. What is’ good’, however, is known to be a function of time and geography. What was unacceptable a few decades ago, may have become the norm of today’s society

Interest in the subject started with the choice of the task I had undertaken, to mentor civil service aspirants for the examinations and interviews, with special emphasis on the subject of Ethics, which had recently been introduced as a part of the General Studies paper. The very fact, that the UPSC has done this, is ample proof of the substantial emphasis which the union government is laying upon the need to infuse, into the ambience of public, the culture of ethical and moral governance.

It has always been my view that, to cause suffering or pain to a fellow human being, is the ultimate sin, and, to bring a smile to a person’s face, the ultimate virtue.

SPECTACULAR ACHIEVEMENTS

Turning to the subject of this article, a critical appraisal of India’s record since independence, especially in the context of the celebrations now on, of the completion of the 75 years after that significant event, throws up an interesting picture. A mixed bag of significant achievements and bitter failures, it leaves one with simultaneous feelings of agony and ecstasy.

The bloodless independence movement, a phenomenon unparalleled in the history of the world and a multi coloured revolution in the agriculture sector leading to food, self-sufficiency are achievements that make one’s hearts swell with pride. The exemplary performance by constitutional and statutory institutions and a record of spectacular accomplishments in varied fields, from sport and adventure, and from the fine arts to science and technology are other feathers in the much adorned cap of the country. But, then, that is one side of the coin. One look at the flip side, and the feeling, of being a proud Indian, soon gives way to disappointment, if not despair. On the one hand, one witnesses harrowing phenomena, such as the sale of children like commodities, wanton killing of women in the name of honour, suicides by farmers on account of distress and theundermining of the autonomy of constitutional institutions. There is, then,the disturbing trust deficit, in the mind of the public, on account of the belying of its expectations.
Representatives of such noble callings, as politics, civil service, the law, medicine and industry, have succumbed to the evils of either temptation, or fear, having been suspected of criminal offences, been tried, found guilty, sentenced and jailed.

The bloodless independence movement, a phenomenon unparalleled in the history of the world and a multi coloured revolution in the agriculture sector leading to food, self-sufficiency are achievements that make one’s hearts swell with pride

As a result, those charged with responsibility of protecting public interest have, themselves, taken to crime. As the Roman poet Juvenal says, in his ‘Satires’, the situation prompts the question, “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” ?or “who will guard the guardians”?

The malaise of corruption, that has led to such a pass, can be traced to several causes, including the lack of transparency in public life, the absence of a statutory regime of stringent punishment for graft, poverty, which is known to cause a callous attitude towards morality, the failure on the part of the higher echelons of governance to decentralise power and authority, thus widening the chasm between citizens and public institutions, and inadequate remuneration, for particularly for public servants at the cutting edge, leading to the compulsion to seek alternative sources of income.

The hypocrisy practised by some government officials, by way of demonstration of their integrity, not only to others, but also to themselves, can sometimes go to extreme lengths. For example, there was this senior civil servant, whom I know, who would, after office hours, travel in his government vehicle to a government office very close to his home, and walk the rest of the distance on foot, today also day the journey from his office to the office near his house was recorded in the log book of car as ‘official’.
Clearly, a hypocritical practice, caused by prohibition of the use of government vehicles, were ‘so called’ private use’ ‘so called’, because commuting from home to office, can hardly be termed entirely private. The state government, conscious subsequently, took the sensible step of allowing officials, of seniority above a certain level, to use government vehicles for private purposes, on payment of a fixed monthly amount, a much more practical arrangement.

I wonder if you have heard of the tehsildar in a state who was facing the threat of suspension from his superior officer. When the superior officer was asked, by a friend, why such a harsh measure was being contemplated, against an essentially honest man, he retorted, “All his salary is illegal gratification!”
The country’s balance sheet, in other words, leads to the conclusion that, while much has been achieved, a great deal remains to be accomplished. Neither despair, nor a feeling of resting on one’s oars, is called for. Addressing the formidable, if not daunting, challenge of the task ahead, however, calls for many determined measures. Those at the helm of affairs of the nation, will have to imbibe the art of arriving at a short list of options at their disposal, and from among those, arrive at a prioritised strategy to approach them. Hosting of international sports events, mounting expeditions to the Arctic, exploring outer space, or organising film festivals, may have to take a backseat, while attention is focused on fundamental issues, such as those mentioned earlier, in addition to dealing with the increasingly alarming situation on the borders of the country created by inimical, aggressive and powerful neighbours. Food security, climate change, degradation of natural resources and combating terrorism are other challenges that cannot await being dealt with.

Given undivided emphasis on such a short agenda, the institutions of the country, and its citizens, have the talent, energy and ability to achieve what is set before them with efficiency and speed. The response of the farming community, in the days of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, and the restraint, and discipline, shown by the entire population, during the recent Covid – 19 pandemic, serve as apt examples of this trait in the Indian citizen. Not to mention the enthusiasm with which people, from different walks of life, responded to the call from the union government to join the movement of ‘Swachh Bharat’.
It is to the task of arriving at the list of options, and the manner in which it needs to be addressed, that the sagacity of political leaders and the experience of senior civil servants, will need to make an important contribution.

The overriding importance of containing, if not eliminating, the scourge of corruption will surely have to figure near the top of such a list. Also, some important features will need to be built into the overall strategy. There is no area of governance where the worn out cliché, of prevention being better than cure, has greater relevance than an anti corruption movement. Putting in place a regime of statutes, and rules, that makes corruption both an uninviting, and difficult, proposition, will of course, be necessary. Greater emphasis will also need to be laid on strengthening, and modernising, vigilance and enforcement mechanisms, so that the need for taking resort to obsolete, and relatively less effective, option, of punitive measures, will be minimised. The movement will also need to be informed with a sense of proportion. The trivial, and the mundane, will need to be ignored and space so left vacant, filled with imaginative and coordinated efforts, to identify, and deal, mercilessly, with large scale graft, such as the scams one has seen, in recent times in the telecom sector. There will, no doubt, be considerable residual space, between these categories, occupied by acts of misconduct, and irregularities of considerable, but not substantial, nature, which can, and ought to, be left to the administrative apparatus to deal with. Such an approach, together with the accent on preventive measures, rather than post event responses, if implemented sincerely, should be showing visible results in the possible future.

Pompeia, wife of Julius Caesar, was arrested upon suspicion of illicit relationship with ClodiusPulcher and tried for that offence. Caesar, when questioned after divorcing Pompeia, famously said that “my wife ought not even to be under suspicion”. Those holding public office should not only be above suspicion, but should clearly be seen by the public as being so.

Clearly what is needed is for the leadership in the country to set an example. Caesar’s wife, after all, needs to be above suspicion!

Clearly not an easy proposition, the business ethical governance!

Mohan Kanda

Dr Mohan Kanda is a retired member of the Indian Administrative Service. In his long and distinguished career, he served in various capacities at the State as well as at the Centre including Chief Secretary of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, and Member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Government of India. He has authored several books including ‘Ethics in Governance - Resolution of Dilemmas - with case studies’

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