Ethical elements in Administration- Honesty,Responsibility, Transparency

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with issues of right and wrong in human affairs Ethics refers to well-based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of duties, principles, specifc virtues, or benefts to society. which can better be stated as:-

  1. Duties: Te behaviors expected of persons who occupy certain roles; that is, the obligations taken on when assuming a role or profession
  2. Virtues: Qualities that defne what a good person is; moral excellence
  3. Principles: Fundamental truths that form the basis for behavior; “kinds of action that are right or obligatory”
  4. Benefts to society: Actions that produce the greatest good for the greatest number

Administrative ethics implies applying general moral rules to specific sphere of human relations, that is to say administrative relations. Some of the most important areas of applied ethics today concern the ethics of administration. In spite of the fact that public administration is very old institution, administrative ethics is still undeveloped and it longs for specific moral rules that cover maybe the most important area of human relations – administrative relations.Public administration is a part of our daily life and to a large extent governs it. The administrative apparatus consist of people who are also members of the local community (communities). Citizens and public officials, who have access to power, have to coexist together in one area, one space. The difference between them is that public administration officials have to provide services in aid of community. Because of this work, based on public money and property the possibility of betraying public trust is probable. There is no simplest thing, than spending someone‟s money, even if we do not get direct profits. Ethical behavior and decisions maintaining citizens‟ trust, ensure effective and efficient use of resources, and allow government to preserve individual rights while assisting those who will benefit the most.

Determinents of Ethics and Human Action

  1. Honesty: To act in a truthful manner and to comply with promises
  2. Integrity: To act in accordance with relevant moral values and norms
  3. Benevolence: To act in a manner that promotes good and avoids harm for citizens
  4. Lawfulness: To act in accordance with existing laws and rules
  5. Incorruptibility: To act without prejudice or bias in favor of one‟s own private interests
  6. Accountability: To act willingly in justifying and explaining one‟s actions to relevant stakeholders
  7. Dedication: To act with diligence, enthusiasm, and perseverance
  8. Reliability: To act in a manner that is consistent, predictable, and trustworthy
  9. Serviceability: To act in a manner that is helpful and provides quality service to citizens, customers, and other relevant stakeholders
  10. Effectiveness: To act in a manner that best achieves the desired results
  11. Humaneness: To act in a manner that exhibits respect, compassion, and dignity toward others
  12. Expertise: To act with competence, skill, and knowledge
  13. Impartiality: To act without prejudice or bias toward particular individuals or groups

Essense of of Ethics and Human Action :-

 Ethical standards for public service should be clear.

 Ethical standards should be reproduced in the legal framework.

 Ethical supervision should be available to public servants.

 Public servants should know their rights and obligations when exposing wrongdoing.

 Political commitment to ethics should reinforce the ethical conduct of public servants.

 The decision -making process should be transparent and open to scrutiny.

 There should be clear guidelines for interaction between the public and private sectors.

 Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct.

 Management policies, procedures and practices should promote ethical conduct.

 Public service conditions and management of human resources should promote ethical conduct.

 Adequate accountability mechanisms should be in place within the public service.

 Appropriate procedures and sanctions should exist to deal with misconduct.

Consequences of Ethics and Human Action

 Intensity of pleasure or pain :-Consequence of an action can be good or bad. How intense it is, makes the difference in the effect. E.g., eating a chocolate and eating bitter guard shows the difference in intensity. The duration :-The duration of pleasure or pain created by an action differs for stubbing one‟s toe and breaking one‟s toe.

 The certainty or uncertainty Consequences of an action can be certain or uncertain. E.g. jumping off from a higher building can cause a lot of pain to an individual than jumping onto a giant pillow from the same place.

 The Nearness or remoteness:- During the time of pleasure or pain nearness or remoteness effect follows an action. e.g. Pleasure of eating ice-cream is immediate, whereas the pleasure produced by winning a chess game is little more remote. They take a little longer to show up results.

 The fecundity Consequence of doing the action is either pleasurable or painful, but how likely the action is to be followed by more pleasure or more pain is an important question. The purity or impurity of pleasure or pain is the opposite of fecundity. This explains how likely the action is to be followed by the opposite feeling. For example, eating all the chocolate is very pleasurable at first, but it leads to a great deal of pain in the long run which creates a high level of impurity or a low level of purity.

 The extent of an action This refers to the wide effect of an action. Some actions can have an extent numbering in the millions, such as deciding whether to torture a terrorist for life-saving information.

Ethics in public administration

In the public sector, ethics addresses the fundamental premise of a public administrator’s duty as a “steward” to the public. In other words, it is the moral justification and consideration for decisions and actions made during the completion of daily duties when working to provide the general services of government and nonprofit organizations. Ethics is defined as, among others, the entirety of rules of proper moral conduct corresponding to the ideology of a particular society or organization (Eduard). Public sector ethics is a broad topic because values and morals vary between cultures. Despite the differences in ethical values, there is a growing common ground of what is considered good conduct and correct conduct with ethics. Ethics are an accountability standard by which the public will scrutinize the work being conducted by the members of these organizations. The question of ethics emerges in the public sector on account of its subordinate character.  Decisions are based upon ethical principles, which are the perception of what the general public would view as correct. Ensuring the ethical behavior in the public sector requires a permanent reflection on the decisions taken and their impact from a moral point of view on citizens. Having such a distinction ensures that public administrators are not acting on an internal set of ethical principles without first questioning whether those principles would hold to public scrutiny. It also has placed an additional burden upon public administrators regarding the conduct of their personal lives. Public sector ethics is an attempt to create a more open atmosphere within governmental operations.

John Rohr, in defining bureaucrats as public administrators, approaches ethic standards in government as a requirement due to the nature of the work of administrators. He writes, “because bureaucrats govern through authority that is discretionary, and because they are not elected, the ordinary means of popular control are inapplicable”. Rohr assumes that public administrators are working to benefit the general public’s needs. When an elected official does not act in line with the public’s expectations, they can be removed from office. However, public administrators are protected with due process rights as government employees, and ethical violations can be difficult to justify the removal of a person from an office.  Many questions about how ethics should be addressed in government exist. According to Cody and Lynn, the debate centers on the extent to which one would like to detail ethical standards. For example, they cite the general litmus test for administrators regarding whether or not they would like to hear about their actions on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. That is, a public official should gauge their decisions by how he/she would interpret the public scrutiny should his/her decision appear on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. If it would be viewed as a problem by the public, then the administrator should refrain from the action in question.

The Honest Person Rule: Unless there is an underlying honesty within people, a set of ethical rules is meaningless. This supporting argument for the general guidelines maintains that for ethical standards to be practical an individual must be ethically sound from the beginning. As Cody and Lynn point out, it is possible for a public official to act unethically, but not be personally dishonest. The litmus test example and the Honest Person Rule are broad standards without much definition. As a consequence, broadly defined ethical standards are difficult to assess regarding concerns of ethical violations. In order to have greater accountability, more specific standards are needed, or a statement of applied ethics.  To further provide some definition, Rohr classifies ethics in government with some of the approaches that have been taken. The USDA devised a system where employees were asked questions and then asked to rank the actions as permissible, not permissible, and permissible with prior written approval. Rohr argues that this type of approach, known as the Low Road merely places an understanding of what not to do in order to steer clear of trouble . This approach does not assist an employee in providing a standard for what is truly ethical behavior.

The High Road, according to Rohr, is the basis of decisions upon a pursuit for social equity, which is based upon political philosophy and humanistic psychology.  Rohr finds problems with both the Low Road and High Road approaches and bases his argument on regime values, or “the values of that political entity that was brought into being by the ratification of the Constitution that created the present American republic”. He contends that regime values are built upon three considerations:

  • Ethical norms should be derived from the salient values of the regime;
  •  These values are normative for bureaucrats because they have taken an oath to uphold the regime
  •  and These values can be discovered in the public law of the regime.

Levels of ethical decision-making

Terry Cooper is an often-cited author in the field of public administration ethics. His book, The Responsible Administrator, is an in-depth attempt to bridge the philosophical points of ethics and the complex workings of public administration. While not revolutionary, his work has become a focal point around which ethical decision-making in the public sector are made. In The Responsible Administrator, he states that public administrators make decisions daily according to a distinctive four-level process. The four levels are:

The Expressive Level: At this stage, a person responds to a situation with “spontaneous, reflective expressions of emotion … which neither invite a reply nor attempt to persuade others”.

 The Level of Moral Rules: This is the first level at which we begin to question actions and begin to look for alternatives and consequences. The responses at this level are often built upon “moral rules we acquire through the socialization process from our families, religious affiliations, education and personal experiences.” Decisions on how to handle the situation are then whittled down based on what we feel is the most appropriate action within our own personal moral bank.

  The Level of Ethical Analysis: There are times when a personal moral code will seem inadequate for the situation, or that the alternatives and consequences do not feel right. When this occurs, a person has entered this level and begins to examine their ethical principles, or “statements concerning the conduct or state of being that is required for the fulfillment of a value; it explicitly links a value with a general mode of action”. Particularly, at this level, one begins to reexamine their personal values, and may eventually disagree with actions to such an extent that they will become “whistleblowers.”

 The Post-ethical Level: At this level, questions arise about one’s view of the world and human nature, how we know anything to be true, and the meaning of life. Here there is a philosophical examination as to why ethical standards are important and relevant to the individual.

The importance of ethics in public administration

Ethics provide accountability between the public and the administration. Adhering to a code of ethics ensures that the public receives what it needs in a fair manner. It also gives the administration guidelines for integrity in their operations. That integrity, in turn, helps foster the trust of the community. By creating this atmosphere of trust, the administration helps the public understand that they are working with their best interests in mind.  Additionally, a code of ethics creates standards of professionalism that co-workers in the public sector can expect from each other — the public can also expect the same from their leaders. With a strong code of ethics in public administration, leaders have the guidelines they need to carry out their tasks and inspire their employees and committees to enforce laws in a professional and equitable manner.

Another positive outcome of good ethics in public administration is timely and informative communication with the community. This kind of transparency builds trust and prevents or minimizes the potential issues that can arise when information is divulged from outside sources. If there is something of consequence that the public needs to know about, it’s better for it to come directly from the leaders and administration. Communication also keeps all parties involved so that they can all work toward a common goal. Good communication ensures that the community can engage their leaders on important issues.

Transparency and accountability

Transparency and accountability in administration as the sine qua non of participatory democracy, gained recognition as the new commitments of the state towards its citizens. It is considered imperative to enlist the support and participation of citizens in management of public services. Traditionally, participation in political and economic processes and the ability to make informed choices has been restricted to a small elite in India. Consultation on important policy matters, even when they directly concern the people was rarely the practice. Information-sharing being limited, the consultative process was severely undermined.

There is no denying the fact that information is the currency that every citizen requires to participate in the life and governance of society. The greater the access of the citizen to information, the greater would be the responsiveness of government to community needs. Alternatively, the greater the restrictions that are placed on ‘access’, the greater the feelings of ‘powerlessness’ and alienation. Without information, people cannot adequately exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens or make informed choices.

Government information is a national resource. Neither the particular government of the day, nor public officials, creates information for their own benefit. This information is generated for the purposes related to the legitimate discharge of their duties of office, and for the service of public for whose benefit the institutions of government exist, and who ultimately (through one kind of import or another) fund the institutions of government and the salaries of officials. It follows that government and officials are ‘trustees’ of the information of the people.

Nonetheless, there are in theory at least, numerous ways in which information can be accessible to members of the public in a parliamentary system. The systemic devices promote the transfer of information from government to parliament and the legislatures, and from these to the people. Members of the public can seek information from their elected representatives. Annual reporting requirements, committee reports, publication of information and administrative law requirements also increase the flow of information from government to the citizen. Recent technological advances also help to reduce further the gap between the ‘information rich’ and the ‘information’.

However, in spite of India’s status as the world’s most populous democratic state, there was not until recently any obligation at village, district, state or national level to disclose information to the people – information was essentially protected by the colonial secrets Act 1923, which makes the disclosure of official information by public servants an offence. The colonial legacy of secrecy, distance and mystification.

of the bureaucracy coupled with a long history of one party dominance proved to be a formidable challenge to transparency and effective government let alone an effective right to information secretive government is nearly always inefficient in that the free flow of information is essential if problems are to be identified and resolved.

Right to information has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people centred governance. Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies and actions, thereby leading to their welfare. Without good governance, no amount of developmental schemes can bring improvements in the quality of life of the citizens. Good governance has four elements- transparency, accountability, predictability and participation. Transparency refers to availability of information to the general public and clarity about functioning of governmental institutions. Right to information opens up government’s records to public scrutiny, thereby arming citizens with a vital tool to inform them about what the government does and how effectively, thus making the government more accountable. Transparency in government organisations makes them function more objectively thereby enhancing predictability. Information about functioning of government also enables citizens to participate in the governance process effectively. In a fundamental sense, right to information is a basic necessity of good governance.

In recognition of the need for transparency in public affairs, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act (hereinafter referred to as the RTI Act or the Act) in 2005. It is a path breaking legislation empowering people and promoting transparency. While right to information is implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, the Act sets out the practical regime for citizens to secure access to information on all matters of governance.

Right to information : Challenges

The most contentious issue in the implementation of the Right to Information Act relates to official secrets. In a democracy, people are sovereign and the elected government and its functionaries are public servants. Therefore by the very nature of things, transparency should be the norm in all matters of governance. However it is well recognised that public interest is best served if certain sensitive matters affecting national security are kept out of public gaze. Similarly, the collective responsibility of the Cabinet demands uninhibited debate on public issues in the Council of Ministers, free from the pulls and pressures of day-to-day politics. People should have the unhindered right to know the decisions of the Cabinet and the reasons for these, but not what actually transpires within the confines of the ‘Cabinet room’. The Act recognizes these confidentiality requirements in matters of State and Section 8 of the Act exempts all such matters from disclosure.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923 (hereinafter referred to as OSA), enacted during the colonial era, governs all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance. The law largely deals with matters of security and provides a framework for dealing with espionage, sedition and other assaults on the unity and integrity of the nation. However, given the colonial climate of mistrust of people and the primacy of public officials in dealing with the citizens, OSA created a culture of secrecy. Confidentiality became the norm and disclosure the exception. While Section 5 of OSA was obviously intended to deal with potential breaches of national security, the wording of the law and the colonial times in which it was implemented made it into a catch-all legal provision converting practically every issue of governance into a confidential matter. This tendency was buttressed by the Civil Service Conduct Rules, 1964 which prohibit communication of an official document to anyone without authorization. Not surprisingly, Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, enacted in 1872, prohibits the giving of evidence from unpublished official records without the permission of the Head of the Department, who has abundant discretion in the matter. Needless to say even the instructions issued for classification of documents for security purposes and the official procedures displayed this tendency of holding back information.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923 should be repealed, and substituted by a chapter in the National Security Act, containing provisions relating to official secrets.

Implementation of right to information act

In order to enforce the rights and fulfil the obligations under the Act, building of institutions, organization of information and creation of an enabling environment are critical. Therefore, the Commission has as a first step reviewed the steps taken so far to implement the Act as follow:


Information Commissions

Information Officers and Appellate Authorities.

Information and record keeping

Suo motu declaration under Section

Public Interest Disclosure.

Modernizing recordkeeping

Capacity building and awareness generation

Creation of monitoring mechanism

Capacity Building and Awareness Generation

Training programmes: The enactment of Right to Information Act is only the first step in promoting transparency in governance. The real challenge lies in ensuring that the information sought is provided expeditiously, and in an intelligible form. The mindset of the government functionaries, wherein secrecy is the norm and disclosure the exception, would require a revolutionary change. Such a change would also be required in the mindset of citizens who traditionaly have been reluctant to seek information. Bringing about this radical change would require sustained training and awareness generation programmes. The Commission’s own experience in seeking information from select public authorities reveals that even some PIOs are not conversant with the key provisions of the Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office in the United Kingdom has published an ‘Awareness Guidance’ series to assist public authorities and, in particular, staff who may not have access to specialist advice about some of the issues, especially exemption provisions. This practice may also be adopted in India.

Awareness generation: The enactment of the Right to Information Act has led to an intense debate in the media on various aspects of freedom of information. Despite this, enquiries reveal that level of awareness, particularly at the grass roots level, is surprisingly low. In order to achieve the objectives of the Act it would be necessary that citizens become aware of their entitlements and the processes required to use this right to improve the quality of governance. Awareness generation so far has been largely confined to government advertisement in print media. An effective awareness generation campaign should involve multi media efforts including street plays, television spots, radio jingles, and other mass communication techniques. These campaigns could be effectively implemented at low cost, once committed voluntary organizations and corporates with creativity, passion and professionalism are involved.

Issues in implementation

The implementation of the RTI Act is an administrative challenge which has thrown up various structural, procedural and logistical issues and problems, which need to be addressed.

Facilitating Access: For seeking information, a process as prescribed under the Act has to be set in motion. The trigger is filing of a request. Once the request is filed the onus of responding to it shifts to the government agency. Based on the experiences there are some issues arising in the implementation:

  • Complicated system of accepting requests.
  • Insistence on demand drafts.
  • Difficulties in filing applications by post.
  • Varying and often higher rates of application fee.
  • Large number of PIOs.

Complicated system of accepting requests : While accepting applications, Departments insist that cash be paid at the accounts office. In Ministries, the accounts office and the PIOs office are different and at times in different locations. The Rules also prescribe that for each extra page of information, Rs. 2 has to be paid, for which the applicant has to go through the same process. The difficulty would get further pronounced in field offices, many of which do not have provision to collect cash. Moreover, getting a visitor’s pass to enter a government building results in unwarranted wait times (especially, when the PIO responsible might not be available owing to a number of other responsibilities which (s)he handles). Therefore, the process of filing requests for information needs to be simplified.

Insistence on demand drafts: Though there is a provision to pay fees through bank drafts, this poses another problem, as the bank charges Rs 35 to prepare a demand draft of Rs 10. Therefore the insistence by some departments to receive fees only through demand drafts and not in cash needs to be dispensed with.

Difficulties in filing applications by post: Under the existing dispensation, filing applications by post would necessarily involve payment of the application fee by way of demand draft or Banker’s cheque.

Varying and often higher rates of application fee: Different States have prescribed different fees in this regard. The Tamil Nadu Right to Information (Fees) Rules provides that an application fee of Rs 50 has to be paid for each request. During its public hearing in Chennai, the Commission was informed that this high rate of fees discouraged filing of applications under the Act. Therefore there is a need to harmonise the fee structure.


  • In addition to the existing modes of payment, appropriate governments should amend the Rules to include payment through postal orders.
  • States may be required to frame Rules regarding application fee which are in harmony with the Central Rules. It needs to be ensured that the fee itself does not become a disincentive.
  • Appropriate governments may restructure the fees (including additional fees) in multiples of Rs 5. {e.g. instead of prescribing a fee of Rs. 2 per additional page it may be desirable to have a fee of Rs. 5 for every 3 pages or part thereof}.
  • State Governments may issue appropriate stamps in suitable denominations as a mode of payment of fees. Such stamps would be used for making applications before public authorities coming within the purview of State Governments.
  • As all the post offices in the country have already been authorized to function as APIOs on behalf of Union Ministries/Departments, they may also be authorized to collect the fees in cash and forward a receipt along with the application.
  • At the Government of India level the Department of Personnel and Training has been identified as the nodal department for implementation of the RTI Act. This nodal department should have a complete list of all Union Ministries/ Departments which function as public authorities.
  • Each Union Ministry/ Department should also have an exhaustive list of all public authorities, which come within its purview. The public authorities coming under each ministry/ department should be classified into (i) constitutional bodies, (ii) line agencies, (iii) statutory bodies, (iv) public sector undertakings, (v) bodies created under executive orders, (vi) bodies owned, controlled or substantially financed, and (vii) NGOs substantially financed by government. Within each category an up-todate list of all public authorities has to be maintained.
  • Each public authority should have the details of all public authorities subordinate to it at the immediately next level. This should continue till the last level is reached. All these details should be made available on the websites of the respective public authorities, in a hierarchical form.
  • A similar system should also be adopted by the States.

Elections are the primary means for citizens to hold their country’s officials accountable for their actions in office, especially when they have behaved illegally, corruptly, or ineptly in carrying out the government’s work. For elections — and the people’s will — to be meaningful, basic rights must be protected and affirmed, as through the Bill of Rights in the United States. James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, believed that the very basis for government’s responsiveness was the assurance that citizens would have sufficient knowledge to direct it. If citizens are to govern their own affairs, either directly or through representative government, then they must be able to have access to the information needed in order to make informed choices about how best to determine their affairs. If citizens and their representatives are not well informed, they can neither act in their own self-interest, broadly speaking, nor can they have any serious choice in elections, much less offer themselves as candidates.

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