Printer Friendly

Impact of accountability and ethics on public service delivery: a South African perspective; Learn how South Africa's Constitution of 1996, by requiring all government departments to observe particular codes of conduct, is attempting to improve accountability and ethics in public service delivery--specifically at the local level.


Ethics are as important for the public servant as blood for the body. The public sector, like individuals, is constantly changing through new leadership, environmental influences, and sociopolitical development. Government and society cannot promote and enforce ethical behavior solely through the utilization of ethical codes of conduct or the promulgation of a plethora of legislation. Social mindsets often are still entangled in a micro-ethic paradigm. People tend to think of moral values and norms as applying only to personal relations. South Africa needs an organizational culture that not only supports ethical behavior, but sees that it also defines and underpins right and wrong conduct individually and institutionally. The concept of interrelatedness corresponds with the African concept of ubuntu, which means brotherliness and good neighborliness. What affects one's brother, directly or indirectly, also affects oneself.

In South Africa, the proliferation of ethical codes of conduct, public accountability, and the promulgation of a number of pieces of legislation will likely fail to thwart unethical behavior unless the public and public officials are inculcated with particular dispositions, attitudes, and virtues for guiding human conduct. For example, because public officials in South Africa operate in a diverse society, their ethical convictions and accountability to its populace are bound to be tested. Training in ethics is essential to ensure that officials act confidently, knowing they have organizational support, rendering efficient, effective, ethical, and accountable public service.

The South African government has launched an ambitious initiative--Batho Pele, or "people first"--a public service improvement program across the nation at all levels. One element of this program is the change management engagement, which promotes a new public service belief set: "We belong, we care, we serve." To comply with Batho Pele, departments must set and measure standards for each of their services. Batho Pele uses visits, spot-checks, and inspections to assess compliance with its requirements.

Comparison of Public-Sector Ethics

Table 1 compares public-sector ethics in the twentieth century with what one might envisage for public-sector ethics in the twenty-first century. Era-specific ethics can neither contribute to public service quality, nor offer a more equitable distribution of scarce resources in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Ethics and the Public Sector

The question of ethics is linked with the history of mankind. Ethics deals with the character, conduct, and morals of human beings. It deals with good or bad and right or wrong behavior, evaluates conduct using absolute criteria, and puts negative or positive values on it. Ethics differs from law, because it involves no formal sanctions; from etiquette, because it goes beyond mere social convention; from religion, because it makes no theological assumptions; from aesthetics, because it is aimed at conduct and character rather than objects; and from prudence, because it goes beyond the self-interests of others. Ethics is both a process of inquiry and code of conduct. As a code of conduct, it is like an inner eye that enables people to see the rightness or wrongness of their actions.

Ethics has to do with the actions of man. Consequently, it requires adjustments in the actions and attitudes of the public manager in relation to colleagues and the public, as well as in relation to self. Ethical values and integrity as a basic value as well as the rule of law are key elements of every democratic society. In their daily execution of their functions and management of public funding, public officials dispose of discretionary competencies. These values not only must protect the citizens against arbitrary use of this public power, but also the public authority itself against any improper use of this power by its public officials. The public officials themselves must be protected against any abuse or diversion of law or authority on behalf of the public authority or its official bodies.

Ethical behavior is essential for an effective and stable political-administrative authority as well as social and economic structures. Corruption can disturb economic competition and endanger free trade and the stability on which the free market economy is based. Moreover, ethics must be seen as an ongoing activity and not as a status to be attained. Ethics does not just concern establishing a set of rules or code of conduct, but is an ongoing management process that underpins the work of government. Indeed, as Denhardt says, ethics are not a set of rules or values waiting to be discovered that provides all the answers. In the complex world of public administration, norms and values rarely provide clear-cut answers to difficult problems. Ethics should be thought of as helping to frame relevant questions about what government ought to be doing and how public administration ought to go about achieving those purposes (Denhardt, in Hondeghem, 1998:29).


One of the earliest norms in public administration was that of neutrality: public officials should be apolitical policy implementation functionaries rather than policymakers. Within the context of public administration, the emphasis on norms is associated with the recommendation of certain values that are viewed as desirable by their promoters.

There are concerns that with recruitment of personnel from the private sector, public-sector norms and values need to be reinforced. Thompson (in Hondeghem, 1998:27) notes that since those who serve government come from more diverse backgrounds and begin with fewer values in common, the rules of government ethics are likely to become more important and more explicit.


The common denominator of nearly all people problems is found in the area of values. Values differ widely from person to person and from culture to culture. The influence of values on people's thinking, acting, and behavior is underestimated. McMurry tells us that the influence of values on the individual is powerful:

* They principally determine what one regards as right, good, worthy, beautiful, and ethical.

* They provide the standards and norms by which one guides day-to-day behavior.

* They chiefly determine one's attitudes toward political, economic, social, industrial, and other causes and issues with which one comes into contact daily.

* They determine the ideas, principles, and concepts one can accept, assimilate, remember, and transmit without distortion.

In spite of the above, individuals may temporarily or permanently discard their value systems in favor of specific goal attainment.

The importance of articulating ethics and the values that define and underpin the public service cannot be overemphasized. It is critical in providing both public officials and the public with a common frame of reference regarding the principles and standards to be applied and in assisting public officials to develop an appreciation of the ethical issues involved in effective and efficient public service delivery.

Seven Principles of Public Life

An example of the importance attached to the above-mentioned ethical principles is found in Table 2, "Seven Principles of Public Life," by the Nolan Committee in the United Kingdom. These principles, which are set out for the benefit of all who serve the public, provide a valuable framework for evaluating recent experience and for considering the future.

Normative Criteria for Public Service Delivery

From the large body of knowledge on normative guidelines for public service delivery, a universally acceptable code of conduct is clearly viewed as necessary for public officials to ethically perform their activities. In Table 3, we propose normative criteria as a foundation for effective and efficient public service delivery at the local level. These normative criteria are based upon values, attitudes, and aptitudes that can be measured or evaluated. They constitute a point of departure for the implementation and maintenance of acceptable, effective, and efficient public service delivery.


The South African Public Service Commission's State of the Public Service Report, February 2005, recommended attention to the following areas to ensure ethical, accountable, efficient, and effective public service delivery:

* Since there is an unclear link between the National Corruption Strategy and departmental strategies, training on integrated ethics management should be provided to all managers.

* Continued research and information on ethics management is needed to ensure accurate and reliable information.

* Departments should specifically address Batho Pele service delivery improvement plans (SDIPs) in their annual reports.

* Government has addressed the need for fairness in service delivery through, for example, the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act of 2000 (PAJA). Research reveals that compliance by departments with the provisions of the act is very disappointing. Increased training should be provided to all officials on the PAJA; financial support should be provided to civil society organizations working in this area.

* Capacity and capability will need to be built systematically and incrementally to build public service accountability.

* An accreditation system for public service managers will help ensure that appointees have the skills and experience required for their work.

* Create a specialist capacity that will support departments in difficulty. Such capacity should be established to undertake thorough problem analysis, design appropriate solutions, and support project implementation.

* Assign priority to implementating departmental risk management and fraud prevention plans.

* The flow of credible information in line with the Batho Pele principles will enhance the sense of ownership of government programs and processes by the beneficiaries.

* Structure annual reports so that they directly reflect plans presented in the national and provincial expenditure estimates. This will allow a clearer comparison of performance against plans and budgets.

An ethical code of conduct, adherence to accountability principles, and appropriate training can make a difference in the ethical dilemmas of public officials, particularly with regard to effective and efficient service delivery. An ethical code of conduct is necessary to guide the public official in public service rendering to the community as well as to safeguard against unfair demands by the community. This conduct leads to the promotion of a positive image of the public service.


Openness with regard to decision making, participation, and a public say is a necessity. An adjustment of attitudes and actions in South Africa lies in contact and communication across racial, cultural, language, and geographical boundaries. Normative communication between the political parties and the government within each of their own electorates is of prime importance. A code of conduct goes a long way in providing a suitable climate in which an ethical culture can thrive and promote a professional ethos among public officials at all levels. However, the code of conduct only becomes meaningful if there are measures to enforce it in order to provide for sanctions as well as disciplinary activities.


Chapman, R. A. Ethics in Public Service for the New Millennium (Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2000).

Clapper, V. "On Seeing the Promised Land: Prospects for Public Sector Right-Doing." Journal for Public Administration, Vol. 34, No. 02 (1999): 379-391.

Hondeghem, A. Ethics and Accountability in a Context of Governance and New Public Management (Amsterdam: IOS Press, 1998).

McMurry, R. N. "Conflicts in Human Values" in Golembiewski, R. T., Public Administration as a Developing Discipline (New York: Marcel Dekker: 1977).

South Africa: State of the Public Service Report, Bracing the Public Service for Sustained, Effective Service Delivery Based on Batho Pele (Commission House, Arcadia: The Government Printer, February 2005).

Dr. Kishore Raga is head of the Department of Public Management at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Dr. Derek Taylor is interim programme leader, Postgraduate Programmes in Public Administration and Management, Faculty of Arts, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. They can be reached at and, respectively. This article is excerpted from a presentation at the 66th Annual American Society for Public Administration National Conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 2-5, 2005. The full paper, including additional references and an extensive bibliography, can be found at
Table 1. Comparison of Public-Sector Ethics

Twentieth Century Ethics Twenty-First Century Ethics

Determinants--ruling elites Determinants--authentic discourse
 among all who will be affected
Common ethical code--belief in Constantly managing codes--on the
final solutions basis of continuous authentic
Support guaranteed through coercion Support guaranteed through
Dissenters subject to punitive Dissenters not subject to punitive
measures measures
Western (colonial) ethics Ethics based on anthropological and
 sociological pluralism
Corporate accountability (amounts Personal accountability
to non-accountability)
Exercise of personal morality Exercise of personal morality
stifled and discouraged encouraged
Exercise of personal discretion Exercise of discretion encouraged
Public interest nebulous, Public interests disparate but
determined by governing elites relatively distinct, determined
 with all involved (authentic
 discourse), constantly redefined

Source: Sardar, in Clapper, 1999, p. 149.

Table 2. Seven Principles of Public Life

Selflessness Public officials should take decisions solely in terms
 of the 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 their 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
Openness Holders of public office should be as open as possible
 about all the decisions and actions that they take. They
 should give reasons for their decisions and restrict
 information only when the wider public interest 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.

Source: The Nolan Committee's Principles of Public Life (Chapman,

Table 3. Normative Criteria for Effective and Efficient Public Service

Values Attitudes Aptitudes

* Integrity * Transparency * Knowledge
* Transparency * Responsibility * Acceptance and comprehension
* Publicity * Quality awareness of goals and functioning of
* Accountability * Legibility administrative institutions
* Equity * Clarity * Leadership qualities
* Nondiscrimination * Simplicity * Communication skills
* Quality * Inquisitiveness * Social skills
* Professionalism * Adaptability * Independence
* Reliability * Listening ability * Ability to use experience
* General interest * Involvement * Ability to further education
 * Speed and training
 * Effectiveness * Analytical capability
 * Efficiency * Sense of renewal
COPYRIGHT 2005 Bureaucrat, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Raga, Kishore; Taylor, Derek
Publication:The Public Manager
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jun 22, 2005
Previous Article:Curbing corruption in the Republic of South Africa: learn how new measures put in place since the 1996 Constitution, such as the drafting of codes of...
Next Article:Protection management: an integrated approach to homeland security education; Learn about an innovative approach to weaving an interlocking knowledge...

Related Articles
Public oversight of public/private partnerships. (Symposium).
GFOA Code of Professional Ethics: anchor in a sea of change.
Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Phase I Report and Phase II report.
Paradox of public sector reforms in Malaysia: a good governance perspective.
Ethics and good urban governance in Toronto: the Bellamy report and integrity in public service.
Public-service values and ethics: dead end or strong foundation?
Introduction: growing concerns for public accountability under the state in transition.
Challenges to democratic legitimacy, scrutiny, accountability in the UK national and local state.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters