Strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance

Strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance

The notion of “Good Governance” has become the buzzword these days in wake of globalization. Good governance is commonly described as a style of governance that is efficient, effective, responsive, corruption free and citizen friendly for ensuring people’s trust in government and promoting social harmony, political stability and economic development. Good governance is strictly connected with institutionalized values such as democracy, observance of human rights and rule of law and greater efficiency within the public sector. The current concern for good governance and building public trust in administration has generated the need for following ethical and moral principles, which emphasize on “justice,” “equity,” “conscience,” and “moral unambiguity” and give a prominent place to the idea that public servants are ultimately responsible to the people. In seeking to maintain high standards of ethical behaviour by public administrators, agencies rely on a wide variety of enforcement mechanisms like codes of ethics, legal regulations, professional rules, and ombudsmen to oversee ethical standards. Though all have proved useful in some respects, none can be considered fully satisfactory, at least not in the sense that it alone can be expected to ensure organizational morality. Codes of ethics need to work hand in hand with proactive managerial strategies, which in turn need to be bolstered by external checks on behaviour.

With globalization, privatization and transformation of the world into a global village there is change in the role of the state. The state which was formerly an interventionist, producer, regulator, and seller, is now called upon to be a facilitator, promoter, and partner. There is now increasing expectations from governments to “perform”. The Indian Public Administration system has entered an altogether different phase. Even in the liberalized era most of the basic goods and services are provided by the public agencies such as drinking water, electricity, education, health, and so on. However, the quality of such services is questionable because the bureaucratic behemoth has not been able to effectively and efficiently deliver those services. The poor state of public health, the declining standards of education, and so on, have raised questions of accountability. The individuals who are spending on behalf of the government do not own the money but act as guardians of society. Therefore, the money spent and the services rendered by the civil servants come within the ambit of accountability to the citizens. The citizens as the customers are paying for the services being provided by the government agencies; therefore, all such agencies are accountable to the citizens in their acts of omission and commission.

Corruption in India

India is the 76th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the Corruption Perception Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Rank in India averaged 75.14 from 1995 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 95 in 2011 and a record low of 35 in 1995.

According to a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Annual Report for 2015 tabled in the Parliament, during 2015 as many as 928 government and public sector unit employees were sacked and 5,461 employees handed out major penalties, while 11,711 received minor penalties in 2015 for corruption and misconduct. Punitive action was taken in 17,172 cases (for all categories of officers). In seven cases, deterrent action was taken against senior officers, including three IAS, one IPS and three IRS officers, and sanction of prosecution was granted. As per the CVC Report, the competent authorities in various organisations have issued sanction for prosecution against 132 public servants, major penalties have been imposed on 1,832 public servants and minor penalties on 1,346 during 2015. In 2015, the highest number of punishments, including administrative action against public servants, was in the Railways (602 officers), State Bank of India (217 officers), Punjab National Bank (169 officers) and Department of Telecom (134 officers). The Railways issued sanction for prosecution in 16 cases, Central Board of Excise and Customs in 15 cases and Punjab National Bank in 10 cases. During 2015, a total of 4,355 cases were received and 1,751 brought forward from the previous year. The Commission disposed of 4,604 cases—leaving a pendency of 1,502 cases at the end of the year. It has been observed in the report there was a delay in corruption cases. It takes about eight years to finalise a major vigilance case from the date of occurrence of irregularity. The Commission noted that detection of irregularity and its investigation takes on an average more than two years each—total period of more than 4 years, which is a significant portion of the entire delay period.

In 2015, ‘Corruption, Bribery and Corporate Frauds’ continued to be ranked as the topmost risk. According to reported corruption cases in the media from October 2011 to September 2012, the potential losses suffered by the Indian economy stood at INR 364 billion. This excludes some large scams such as 2G, the Commonwealth Games and mining. Many factors have been attributed to corruption in India, the most prominent ones highlighted by a number of scholars are: regulations and authorizations; providing public services and public goods below market prices; low public sector wages; unstable political institutions and unchecked election costs; a lack of government accountability and laws that protect whistleblowers; leadership deficits, specifically lack of political will for reform; and opaque rules, laws, and procedures. Looking at the state of corruption in India scholars argue that “curbing corruption in India remains an impossible dream in the foreseeable future”. The erosion of values at the personal, professional, and societal levels is a matter of serious concern in India. The Service Conduct Rules, the Code of Conduct, and various other legislations that are enacted and amended from time to time have helped civil servants to maintain moral conduct of the highest order and combat corruption.

Efforts to Strengthen the ethical framework

Accountability to Parliament:   India has adopted Parliamentary democracy wherein the government is responsible to the Parliament which represents the people. The people through Parliament are sovereign as enshrined in our Constitution. Both the minister and the civil servant are servants of the people. The administrators are responsible to the political executives, who in turn are answerable to the Parliament. Besides administrative accountability there is also accountability in regard to ‘finance’. The legislature must authorise the executive before the latter can spend any money from the Consolidated Fund of India or the state.

Judicial Accountability: Because of increase in the State activities, the executive exercises wide powers. As was rightly observed by Lord Denning: “Properly exercised the new powers of the executive lead to the Welfare State; but abused they lead to the Totalitarian State”. The vast discretionary powers conferred on administrative authorities are required to be properly checked and controlled. If a citizen is aggrieved with any action or inaction of the administration, he may seek redress through a court of law. So the presence of independent judicial processes is also important for making administration accountable. Intensive administration will be more tolerable to the citizens, and the government’s path will be smoother, where the law can enforce high standards of legality, reasonableness and fairness. Though the courts have for centuries exercised a limited supervisory jurisdiction by means of the writs, however the power of judicial review is a wider remedy to check abuse of discretionary powers and administrative inaction.

Code of Conduct for Ministers: The Government of India has prescribed a Code of Conduct which is applicable to Ministers of both the Union and State Governments. The authority for ensuring the observance of the present Code of Conduct is the Prime Minister in the case of Union Ministers, the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister in the case of Chief Ministers, and the Chief Minister concerned in the case of Ministers of the State Government. However, it is not comprehensive in its coverage and is more in the nature of a list of prohibitions. So in strict sense it does not amount to a Code of Ethics. It is, therefore, necessary that in addition to the Code of Conduct, there should be a Code of Ethics to provide guidance on how Ministers should uphold the highest standards of constitutional and ethical conduct in the performance of their duties. The Code should be based on the overarching duty of Ministers to comply with the law, to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life. It should also lay down the principles of minister-civil servant relationship. The Code of Ethics should also reflect the seven principles of public life enumerated by Nolan Committee.

The Committee on Ethics of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha:  Chapter XXIV of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States provides for constitution of the Committee on Ethics to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of Members. The Committee on Ethics was first constituted by the Chairman of the House on 4th March, 1997. There is a Committee on Ethics of the LokSabha to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of Members of that House. A few State Legislatures such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, etc. have adopted Codes of Conduct for their Legislators.

Disclosure of Interest:  In India, disclosure of interest is provided in both Houses of Parliament, in different ways. It has been ruled by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that a Member having a personal pecuniary or direct interest on a matter before the House is required, while taking part in the proceedings in that matter, to declare the nature of interest. The Rule 371 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha prescribe that if the vote of a Member in a division in the House is challenged on grounds of personal, pecuniary or direct interest in the matter to be decided, the Speaker may examine the issue and decide whether the vote of the Member should be disallowed or not and his decision shall be final. Furthermore, the Handbook for Members provides that a Member having personal, pecuniary or direct interest in a matter to be decided by the House is expected, while taking part in the proceedings on that matter, to declare his interest.

Code of Conduct / Ethics for Civil Servants: Code of conduct is supposed to increase confidence in government by reassuring citizens that private power and interest do not subvert government decisions. This code is now on the verge of becoming a panacea for problems that they cannot solve. Despite its existence for a long period very little is known about how this code of conduct is implemented or how it functions.

A well-crafted ethics code can accomplish a number of vital public purposes. The code can help restore and support public trust and the legitimacy of the government. It accomplishes this purpose by limiting the ability of private power and interest to subvert fair access to government or the independent judgments of public officials. The codes must affect the daily lives of public officials. A good code can buttress and support the independence of government officials and provide direction and advice on complicated issues. A code succeeds best if it affects the agency culture and its standards become imbedded in bureaucratic practices codes help professionalize inter personal relationships and eliminate many incentives for informal inducements. A well designed code must be supported by ethics education and employee orientation.

Institutional Mechanism to Check Corruption

The first law broadly dealing with corruption and the attachment of property was a pre-independence, war time ordinance called the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 1944, enacted under the Government of India Act, 1935 to prevent the disposal or concealment of property procured by means of certain scheduled offences, including offences under the Indian Penal Code of 1860 (hereinafter “IPC”). In the pre-independence period, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the main tool to combat corruption in public life. The Code had a chapter on ‘Offences by Public Servants’, (Sections 161 to 165) which provided the legal framework to prosecute corrupt public servants.

The first direct and consolidated law on the subject of corruption was the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, which was enacted in independent India to supplement the provisions of the IPC. The existing provisions under the IPC and other laws had proved inadequate to deal with cases of bribery and corruption of public servants, which had increased greatly during the war years, due to scarcity and controls. Therefore, a new law was required to deal with various post-war scenarios, which provided multiple opportunities for corruption – these included post-war reconstruction schemes, termination of contracts, and disposal of a large number of government surplus stores. The 1947 Act sought to incorporate (with modifications) the attachment provisions from the 1944 Ordinance; introduced the offence of criminal misconduct, similar to Section 13 of the present 1988 Act; and criminalised attempts to commit certain offences under the Act.

Lokpal and Lokayuktas

Another important milestone in strengthening governance is the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2014 which was passed by Parliament in December 2013, and got Presidential assent on January 1, 2014. The Act was a product of people’s movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. It aims to prevent and control corruption through the setting up of an independent and empowered body at the central level, called the Lokpal that would receive complaints relating to corruption against most categories of public servants and ensure that these are properly investigated and, where warranted, effectively prosecuted. All this is envisaged in a time-bound manner, with the help of special courts set up for the purpose. The Act also makes it incumbent for each state to pass, within a year, a law setting up a body of Lokayuktas at the state level, but leaves it to the states to work out the details. The Lokpal would receive complaints of corruption against the Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs), officers of the Central Government (all levels), and against functionaries of any entity that is wholly or partly financed by the government with an annual income above a specified limit, and also, all entities receiving donations from foreign sources in excess of 10 lakh per year. It is a welcome move that NGOs and Industrialists have also been brought under the ambit of the Act.

Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011

The enactment of RTI Act saw the rise in the number of whistleblowers but many were also attacked and murdered. The need was felt to protect the whistleblowers. A large number of cases of corruption and unethical acts don’t see the light of the day because of fear being harmed. Whistleblowing typically involves conflict between two parties with unequal power. It involves attempts to change a bureaucracy by those who work within the organization but who do not have authority. It is also seen that whistleblowing usually occurs in the absence of well developed, neutral dispute resolution mechanism. Cases of whistleblowing have been few so far, but there has been pressure from the public for laws to protect legitimate whistleblowers who release information in the public interest. If whistleblower’s protection law is enacted, it will place an onus on public servants to think more about their responsibilities and to re-evaluate the ethic of neutrality. The ethics of neutrality holds that one does only what one is told to do. There is little or no room for individual choice or discretion. Good information, performance based incentives, accountability for results and clarity of roles and responsibilities are all consistent with the maintenance and development of ethical government, promoting organizational values such as efficiency, effectiveness, excellence, quality, leadership and team work.

Central Vigilance Commission

Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is the apex vigilance institution, free of control from any executive authority, monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government. The Central Vigilance Commission was set up by the Government in February 1964 on the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee to advise and guide Central Government agencies in the field of vigilance. The CVC Act passed by Parliament in 2003 gives “statutory status” to CVC. Vide GOI Resolution on “Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informer” dated April 2004, the Government of India has authorized the Central Vigilance Commission as the “Designated Agency” to receive written complaints for disclosure on any allegation of corruption or misuse of office and recommend appropriate action. The Commission has been empowered through the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 to conduct preliminary inquiry into complaints referred by the Lokpal to it. The Act also has a provision for a Directorate of Inquiry to be set up in Commission.

 

Citizen’s Charter and Quality of Delivery of Services

A major theme associated with improving performance is the development of a customer or a client focus or service quality initiative in the public sector. Citizens’ charter is a step in this direction. It improves access to public services and promotes quality. It does this by helping people understand what an organisation does and how to contact it, what to expect by way of service and how to seek a remedy if something goes wrong. It does not in itself create legal rights. But it helps users to claim existing rights, and may create new rights that are enforceable through non-legal means (for example through a complaint procedure or independent adjudicator). The charter should clearly set out the standards of service that users can expect to receive. Good standards are vital for an effective charter, and should be expressed in a way that is meaningful to all users. Above all, the standards set out should be relevant, meaningful, challenging, simple, measurable, monitored, published and reviewed. These initiatives aim to improve performance of service delivery as well as to provide service which meets people’s needs. Commitments to provide a certain type, volume and quality of services may be made and performance measured against their commitments. A number of Central Government departments and undertakings have framed citizen’s charter. Some of the state governments have also taken initiative in this regard but the results are not very encouraging. Perhaps the current prevailing work culture/ environment does not translate these initiatives into action. The real issue, however, is the need to bring about a total change in the attitude of public servants towards redressal of public grievances at all levels and to pin-point responsibility for action on grievances of the people.

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