Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself and which helps guide behaviour, choices and actions.
The crux of ethical behaviour does not lie in bold words and expressions enshrined as standards, but in their adoption in action, in sanctions against their violations, in putting in place competent disciplinary bodies to investigate allegations of violations and impose sanctions quickly and in promoting a culture of integrity.
Corruption is an important manifestation of the failure of ethics.
Corruption and abuse of office has been aggravated by three factors.
- Colonial legacy of unchallenged authority and propensity to exercise power arbitrarily.
- There is enormous asymmetry of power in our society.
- The Indian state in the early decades after Independence chose a set of policies whose unintended consequence was to put the citizen at the mercy of the State.
- Over regulation severe restrictions on economic activity, excessive state control,near-monopoly of the government in many sectors and an economy of scarcity all created conditions conducive to unbridled corruption.
Ethics in Public Life
- Seven principles of public life:
- Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of public interest They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
- Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
- Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
- Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
- Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
- Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
- Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
- A code of ethics would cover broad guiding principles of good behaviour and governance while a more specific code of conduct should, in a precise and unambiguous manner, stipulate a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and action.
Code of Ethics for Civil Servants
- There is no Code of Ethics prescribed for civil servants in India although such codes exist in other countries.There are conduct rules that prohibit a set of common activities.
- These Conduct Rules do serve a purpose, but they do not constitute a Code of Ethics
- ‘Public Service Values’ towards which all public servants should aspire, should be defined and made applicable to all tiers of Government. Any transgression of these values should be treated as misconduct, inviting punishment.
- The salient ‘values’ envisaged in the draft ‘Public Service Bill’ Bill are:
- Allegiance to the various ideals enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution
- Apolitical functioning
- Good governance for betterment of the people to be the primary goal of civil service
- Duty to act objectively and impartially
- Accountability and transparency in decision-making
- Maintenance of highest ethical standards
- Merit based selection
- Ensuring economy and avoidance of wastage in expenditure
Office of Profit:
The Constitution of India lays down that legislators would be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of the legislature if they were to hold any office of profit under the government other than an office declared by the legislature by law not to disqualify its holder.
Chairmanships of Corporations, Parliamentary Secretaryships of various ministries, and other offices of profit
are often sops to legislators to satisfy their aspirations for rank, status and privilege and a way of buying peace for the government.
Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution relating to office of profit have been violated in spirit over the years even when the letter is adhered to. As a result, the Legislatures kept on expanding the list of exemptions from disqualification under Articles 102 and 191. For instance, the Act 10 of 1959 listed scores of offices in the exemptions from disqualification under Article102. There does not appear to be a clear rationale to such a list, except perhaps the expediency
to protect holders of certain offices from time to time.
- The Law should be amended to define office of profit based on the following principles:
- All offices in purely advisory bodies where the experience, insights and expertise of a legislator would be inputs in governmental policy, shall not be treated as offices of profit, irrespective of the remuneration and perks associated with such an office.
- If a serving Minister, by virtue of office, is a member or head of certain organizations like the Planning Commission, where close coordination and integration between the Council of Ministers and the organization or authority or committee is vital for the day-to-day functioning of government, it shall not be treated as office of profit.
- All offices involving executive decision making and control of public funds should be treated as offices of profit, and no legislator shall hold such offices.
- Schemes such as MPLADS and MLALADS should be abolished.
- Members of Parliament and Members of State Legislatures should be declared as ‘Public Authorities’ under the Right to Information Act, except when they are discharging legislative functions.
Types of official conduct which cause immense damage to public interest, which do not explicitly constitute violation of criminal law.
- Gross perversion of the Constitution and democratic institutions amounting to wilful violation of oath of office
- Abuse of authority unduly favouring or harming someone
- Obstruction of justice
- Squandering public money
ARC’s Recommendation : The above acts should be classified as offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The offence of bribery can be classified into two categories.
The bribe giver is a victim of extortion, he is compelled to pay for a simple service, because if he does not submit to the extortionary demands of the public servant, he ends up losing much more than the bribe.
- The delays, harassment, uncertainty, lost opportunity, loss of work and wages – all resulting from non-compliance with demands for a bribe – are so great that the citizen is sucked into a vicious cycle of corruption for day-to-day survival.
- The bribe-giver and bribe-taker together fleece society, and the bribe giver is as guilty or even more guilty than the bribe-taker.
- These are cases of execution of substandard works, distortion of competition, robbing the public exchequer, commissions in public procurement, tax evasion by collusion, and causing direct harm to people by spurious drugs and violation of safety norms.
Liability of Corrupt Public Servants to Pay Damages
In addition to the penalty in criminal cases, the law should provide that public servants who cause loss to the state or citizens by their corrupt acts should be made liable to make good the loss caused and, in addition, be liable for damages.
Corruption Involving the Private Sector
- The Prevention of Corruption Act should be suitably amended to include in its purview private sector providers of public utility services.
- Non-Governmental agencies, which receive substantial funding, should be covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
- Norms should be laid down that any institution or body that has received more than 50% of its annual operating costs, or a sum equal to or greater than Rs 1 crore during any of the preceding 3 years should be deemed to have obtained ‘substantial funding’ for that period and purpose of such funding.
Protection to Whistleblowers
Legislation should be enacted immediately to provide protection to whistle blowers on the following lines
- Whistle blowers exposing false claims, fraud or corruption should be protected by ensuring confidentiality and anonymity, protection from victimization in career, and other administrative measures to prevent bodily harm and harassment.
- The legislation should cover corporate whistleblowers unearthing fraud or serious damage to public interest by willful acts of omission or commission.
- Acts of harassment or victimization of or retaliation against, a whistle blower should be criminal offences with substantial penalty and sentence.
Immunity Enjoyed by Legislators
- The immunity enjoyed by Members of Parliament under parliamentary privileges should not cover corrupt acts committed by them in connection with their duties in the House or otherwise.
- As it creates an anomalous situation wherein the Members of Parliament are immune from prosecution for their corrupt acts if they are related to voting or speaking in the Parliament.
- It runs contrary to norms of justice and fair-play.
- Members of Parliament, being the lawmakers have to maintain the highest standards of integrity and probity. It is, therefore, necessary to amend the Constitution to remove this anomaly.
- Union Govt
- Vigilance units of GOI
- Vigilance Systems of State Govt.
The Lok Pal
Ombudsman at the Local Level
Strengthening Investigation and Prosecution
Educate citizens about the evils of corruption, raise awareness level and give them a voice.
This introduces a new dimension of accountability to the people rather than just legislative and legal accountability.
- Public Interest Litigation
- Jan Sunwai by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan. It brought out corruption in local public works.
- NCPRI Delhi: It used RTI law to expose corruption in PDS.
- Campaign for Citizen Charters by PRAJA of Mumbai.
- Satyameva Jayate programme.
- Civil society groups have put pressure on erring governments to reform corrupt practices.
- They have also provided monitoring mechanisms to track corruption by educating members of the public and associating them in anticorruption efforts.
- Generate demand for reducing corruption and introducing systemic reforms.
Government can create an environment whereby the citizens’ groups can effectively participate in its efforts to root out corruption. Some measures to facilitate this could be:
- Inviting civil societies to oversee government programmes
- Establishing credible complaints mechanisms;
- Eucating society on the events of corruption and to instil moral commitment to integrity
- Public hearings to audit government activities.
- Awareness campaign through radio, newspapers and the television.
- Assess public service delivery periodically
- Feedback form from citizens.
- A reward system for reporting cases of corruption could also help in bringing to light cases of corruption.
- Enacting a False Claims Law is one way of incentivising citizens’ participation.
- Prompt action on citizens’ complaints apart from redressing the grievance also motivates others to bring their grievances to the notice of authorities.
School awareness programmes should be introduced, highlighting the importance of ethics and how corruption can be combated.
Problems with Citizen Charters
- Fallen into disuse
- Promises have become pious declarations
- No mechanism to enforce them
- It would be better to have few promises which can be kept rather than a long list of lofty declarations which are impractical
- Citizens’ Charters should be made effective by stipulating the service levels and also the remedy if these service levels are not met.
Role of Media
- Crucial role in prevention, monitoring and control of corruption.
- Inform and educate. Expose corruption. Investigating reporting and sting operation.
- Due to cut throat competition and race for TRP media does not verify the allegations before putting them in public domain.
- PCI has prescribed a Code of Conduct for print media. However, no such code exists for the electronic media.
- It is necessary to evolve norms and practices requiring proper screening of all allegations/complaints by the media, and taking action to put them in the public domain.
- The electronic media should evolve a Code of Conduct and a self regulating mechanism.
Client, beneficiary, or civil society
- Prevention of wrong doing in procurement of products and services and in distribution of welfare payments.
- Check host of other citizen service oriented activities of government.
- Operating guidelines of all schemes and programmes should provide for a social audit mechanism
Fight against corruption necessarily requires broad consensus on the importance of making society corruption free.
As the political parties have crucial roles and responsibilities in governance. Therefore they should pursue anti-corruption agendas so that more inclusive and broad-based societal consensus
Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability
Importance of Systemic Reforms
- A holistic approach for combating corruption would require an optimum mix of punitive and preventive measures.
- Punitive measures act as a deterrent
- Preventive measures reduce opportunities for corruption by making systems transparent,increasing accountability,reducing discretion, rationalsing procedures etc.
- Better preventive measures act as ‘Systemic Reforms’ as they seek to improve systems and processes.
Large scale reform of both systems and procedures
- The lack of transparency that generally shrouds government operation and programmes is a fertile ground for corruption.
- The weakness of accountability mechanisms also provides opportunities for corruption.
- Bureaucratic complexity and procedures make it difficult for the ordinary citizen to navigate the system.
- e-Governance : E-Seva (Andhra Pradesh), FRIENDS (Fast, Reliable, Instant, Effective Network for Distribution of Service)
- Rural Kiosks, in Andhra
Monopolistic setting promote corruption. Taking advantage of departmental hegemony.
- De monopolisation of telecom sector. It is one of the most successful examples of curbing corruption through introduction of competition.
- Growing role of private players in providing direct marketing services to farmers outside the government controlled mandis in MP.
- Most public services in India are provided by government in a monopolistic setting. Such a situation by its very nature is conducive to arbitrariness, and complacence with a high probability of a section of functionaries taking advantage of the ‘departmental hegemony’ for corruption.
- Introduction of an element of competition in the provision of public services is thus a very useful tool to curb corruption.
- Two Examples – gradual de-monopolisation of the telecom sector and role of private players in providing direct marketing services to farmers
Simplifying Transaction and Using IT
- Direct correlation between incidence and intensity of corruption and the complex nature of work methods
- A single window clearance of all requirements is a step which can cut down on corruption as itsimplifies procedures and reduces layers.
- Using IT – Gyandoot project in MP. It seeks to provide information about prevailing agricultural produce prices at auction centres and easier processes for obtaining copies of land records.
- Bhommi Project (KN) where 20 million records of land ownership wre computerised.
- Before any introduction of IT is attempted, it is necessary that the existing procedures are properly re engineered and made computer adaptable. NIC should take concrete steps to build up skills and domain expertise among its personnel.
- The Ministry of Information and Technology needs to identify certain governmental processes and then take up a project of their computerization on a nationwide scale.
- A system of rewards and incentives for simplification and streamlining of procedures may be introduced in each government organization.
- An organisation is transparent when its decision making and manner of working is open to public and media scrutiny and public discussion.
- Example of improved transparency is the system for transferring teachers in Karnataka. While the earlier system was ad hoc, the current is a computerized system processing transfers centrally.
It can create confidence in public contracting
. It is an agreement between the public agency involved in procuring goods and services and the bidder for a public contract to the effect that the bidders have not paid and shall not pay any illegal gratification to secure the contract in question.
Opportunities for corruption are greater in a system with excessive discretion in the hands of official machinery.
As governments and agencies have hierarchical structure the need for effective supervision becomes paramount. There have to effective checks and balances. Supervision provides such mechanism. The very fact that not many cases are initiated against corrupt officials by the department itself is an indicator that the supervision function is not being given the attention it deserves.
With the constitution of independent agencies to combat corruption, departmental officers feel that it’s not their responsibility to curb corruption and turn a Nelson’s eye to the problem
External machinery can in no way be substitute for anti corruption measures taken by officers in leadership positions.
- Random inspections
- Surprise visits
- Confidential feedback from citizens
- Use of decoy clients
There should be a column in the self assessment portion of ACR wherein each officer should indicate the measures taken by her to check corruption in office and what were the outcomes of such measures.
Reporting officers tend to play ‘safe’ by not commenting objectively on the integrity of a public servant even when the certain unethical practices have been noticed.
Colourless entries such as ‘nothing adverse has come to notice’ are quite common.
Accessibility and Responsiveness
Facilities, concessions and rights which are available to them in each department should be made public and procedure for getting their grievance redressal.
Appeal procedure and timely disposal of application.
Rustomjee Committee on Administrative Reforms had identified 187 services required by the citizens in different departments and had fixed time limits for their disposal.
- Help desk
- Prominent display board.
- Automatic call centres
- Simplified computerised systems of service delivery
Concentration of corruption prone tasks in few hands should be avoided. The task as far as possible should be broken up into activities which are handled by different people.
Business Process Re-engineering in official functioning required. Back office functions are segregated and take place in a time bound manner based on the principle of ‘first in first out’ with the minimum scope for discretion while the front office should be a
‘single window’ for provision of services to citizens in full public view.
Monitoring ComplaintsMost public offices do have a complaint monitoring centre but more often than not the system does not work as the complaints ends with the official against whom the charges are alleged. It usually takes several months to get a response.
In contrast the ICAC in Hong Kong responds to complaint within 48 hours. In Singapore, a complainant to the office of the Commission is attended within 5 minutes, the complaint is looked within 24 hours and an enquiry or investigation is completed within 2 months.
Unless public bodies respond promptly, all efforts to give a voice to the citizen would be futile.
Reforming Civil Services
The system should be transformed so that at every level of the civil service there is a clear assignment of duties and responsibilities with structured and interlocking accountability in which the government servant can be held accountable for the manner in which he/she performs his/her duty. Such assignment should be specific and categorical and include in concrete tems the supervisory and oversight responsibilities of the controlling officers.
At present, there is no incentive to work diligently and efficiently and no adverse consequences of shirking work, indulging in corruption or failing to achieve an acceptable level of efficiency.
There is no performance audit.
The information becomes available to the anti-corruption bodies only when the audit report of the CAG is laid before the Parliament. By the time a serious irregularity comes to knowledge a lot of time is lost. Such delays alert the culprits and allow them to destroy evidence and material making it extremely difficult to complete investigation.
Anti corruption bodies should be equipped to undertake forensic audit of government departments where major irregularities come to their notice.
There should be a public shaming of known corrupt officers.
Create a database of corruption cases and update regularly. Incorporate all related information involving conflict of interest, officers of doubtful integrity, contractors, suppliers etc. Part of this information should be accessible to the general public, part to all departments and entire information to ACB. The CVC may take the lead in establishing such a networked database.
Relation between Political Executive and Permanent Civil Service
In a democracy, power vests with the people. This power is exercised through its elected representatives who have the mandate to govern them for a specific period.
The civil services by virtue of its knowledge, experience and understanding of public affairs assist the elected representatives in formulating policy and are responsible for implementing these policies.
Parliamentary democracies are usually characterized by a permanent civil service which assists the political executive.
Advantages of having an independent, permanent and impartial civil service:
- Provides continuity and develops expertise as well as institutional memory for effective policy making.
- More likely to assess the long-term social payoffs of any policy whereas the political executive may have a tendency to look for short term political gain.
- Helps to ensure uniformity in public administration and also acts as a unifying forceparticularly in vast and culturally diverse nations.
- A permanent civil service like any other reputable profession is likely to evolve over time an ethical basis for its functioning.
The relationship between the Minister and Civil Servant is organic.
The minister has the mandate of the people to govern, but the civil servant has an equivalent constitutional mandate to advise the minister.
Once his advice has been suitable considered, unless the Minister passes an illegal order, the civil servant is bound to implement it.
A civil servant is required to implement the orders of govt without bias, with honesty and without fear or favour.
There is no system of specifying of accountability thus making relationship only issue sensitive.
The civil servants should be held accountable for the delivery of key results.
The political executive is judged on the basis of whether it has chosen the right outputs to achieve social goals. If this is done, the relationship between the political executive and permanent civil service would have been objectively defined.
Areas of potential conflict in the relationship between the political executive and the permanent civil service can be identified as follows:
- The concept of neutrality
- Advisory role of civil servants in policy making
- Statutory role of the civil servants
- Discharge of delegated functions
- Appointments/Recruitment to the civil services
- Transfers and postings of civil servants
Constitutionally Envisioned Scheme
- The secretary has to advise the minister impartially and fearlessly and tell him about thelegality of his orders and suggest that either such orders not be given or that they be suitably modified.
- The minister may have the mandate of the people to govern, but the secretary has an equivalent constitutional mandate to advise the Minister.
- Once his advice has been suitably considered, unless the minister passes an illegal order, the secretary is bound to implement it without bias and fear or favor. The minister, on his part, is required to support the secretary who is implementing his order.
- Loss of political neutrality
- In the initial years after Independence, relations between Ministers and civil servants were characterized by mutual respect and understanding of each other’s respective roles, with neither encroaching upon the other’s domain.
- However, in subsequent years, matters started changing for the worse. While some civil servants did not render objective and impartial advice to their Ministers, often some Ministers began to resent advice that did not fit in with short-term political interests.
- There was also a tendency for some Ministers to focus more on routine administrative matters such as transfers in preference to policy making.
- As a result, ‘political neutrality’ which was the hallmark of the civil service in the pre-Independence era as well as in the period right after Independence, was gradually eroded.
- Discharge of delegated functions
- There is an increasing tendency in government departments to centralize authority and also after having first delegated authority downwards, to interfere in decision making of the subordinate functionaries.
- There is a perception that downward delegation of responsibilities will lead to abuse and more corruption. But the correct way is to institute mechanisms to prevent that.
- Defining accountability
- Civil servants in India are accountable to the ministers, but in practice, the accountability is vague and of a generalised nature. Since there is no system of ex ante specification of accountability, the relationship between the minister and the civil servants is essentially issue-sensitive and civil servants deal with the ministers as the issues present themselves.
- The accountability relationship can be anything from all pervasive to minimalistic and it is left to the incumbent minister to interpret it in a manner that is most convenient to him/her. This leads to either collusive relationship or to discord, both of which can adversely affect the administration.
- Thus there is an urgent need to codify this relationship preferably by enacting a law.
- Accountability can be defined in the relationship only in an output – outcome framework. Outputs are specific services that the civil servants deliver, and therefore, the civil servants should be held accountable for the delivery of key results, which becomes the basis for evaluation of their performance. This can be achieved through agreements with the minister specifying the performance targets. These performance agreements should be put in the public domain. They should have clearly spelt out objective and measurable goals.
- Outcome is the success in achieving social goals and the political executive decides what outputs should be included so that the desired outcomes can be achieved. In such a scheme, the political executive becomes accountable to the people for the outcome.
- Transfers and postings
- Arbitrary transfers and postings of civil servants by the ministers in utter disregard of the tenure policies, concern about disruption of public services delivery, concern about implementation of developmental programmes. Such transfers are made on the basis of caste, religion, money, favoritism. This leads to splitting up of bureaucracy and its demoralization.
- Transfer and tenure policies must be developed in an independent manner and any premature transfer should be based on publicly disclosed sound administrative grounds which should be spelt out in the transfer order itself.
- An officer should be given a fixed tenure of at least three years and given annual performance targets.
- Civil Services Authorities should be made statutory and autonomous. If the government does not agree with the recommendations of the Authority, he will have to record his reasons in writing.
- An officer transferred before his normal tenure can agitate the matter before an Ombudsman.
- Ministerial interference in operations
- Ministers issue instructions, formal or informal, to influence the decisions of the bureaucracy often intruding in their domains.
- It has also been observed that officers, instead of taking decisions on their own, look up to the ministers for informal instructions.
- Several states have created an institution of ‘District Incharge Minister’ to review the development activities in the district who routinely exceed their mandate intrude in the officer’s domain. These practices are unhealthy.
- Appointments/Recruitment to the Civil Services
- While the UPSC enjoys an untarnished reputation for having developed a fair and transparent recruitment system, the same cannot be said for most of the SPSCs.
- In addition, large number of recruitments is done by departments under their control of the government directly. It is essential to lay down certain principles/norms for such recruitments.
Advantages of a Permanent Civil Service
- The spoils system has the propensity to degenerate into a system of patronage, nepotism and corruption.
- Public policy is a complex exercise requiring in-depth knowledge and expertise in public affairs. A permanent civil service develops expertise as well as institutional memory for effective policy making.
- A permanent and impartial civil service is more likely to assess the long-term social payoffs of any policy.
- A permanent civil service helps to ensure uniformity in public administration and also acts as a unifying force particularly in vast and culturally diverse nations.