Ethics and Values in Public Administration

Public Administration has lot of social values attached with it, apart from its far reaching impact on other’s life. That is why, ethics and values should be integral part of public administration.

Why do we need ethics and values in public administration?

  • Ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institution
  • Bureaucrat has discretionary powers, therefore he must be provided with guiding principles to prevent abuse of power.
  • Enable them to became responsive to people.
  • Help him take shortcut to arrive at right decision.

Ethical Elements in Governance

Various committees have recommended ethical elements for civil services. The two big names are

  1. Nolan committee
  2. Second ARC: “ethics in governance” report.

 Nolan committee (UK-1996)

Listed seven foundational values

  1. Leadership
  2. Honesty
  3. selflessness
  4. Openness
  5. accountability
  6. Integrity
  7. objectivity

2nd ARC: “Ethics in Governance”

List of ethical elements suggested by ARC

  1. Integrity, objectivity
  2. Dedication to public service.
  3. Empathy, tolerance, Compassion towards the weaker section
  4. Impartiality, non-partisanship


Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. It is generally a personal choice to uphold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. In ethics, integrity is regarded by many people as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions


If you’re a person of integrity, you’ll not do the duties your conscience doesn’t agree with. E.g. Policeman ordered to fire on unarmed peaceful protestors. Honest policeman will obey the order. Policeman of integrity, will refuse to fire.

How to inculcate integrity?

  • Training.
  • Through Institutional structure: laws, rules, regulation- with carrots and sticks approach.
  • 2nd ARC recommends setting up code of ethics for all departments of the government.  It’ll have broad principle- that all participants have to follow and its reports will be given and evaluated by the HoD. E.g. Speaker will monitor how many times parliament was disrupted,  a committee will moniter it and report will be published. But it’ll not have any penal provision. It’s just to create public / social / peer pressure.
  • Integrity testing: select random sample (officer) and try to bribe him. This is not same as CBI/ACB raid, they want to flush out corrupt people. But integrity testing is done to establish honesty.  CBI raid is done once in a while, but integrity testing done more frequently. (as in New York police department. Hence deterrent value high because all officers afraid they’ll be subjected to it.)
  • If young recruit’s first posting is made under honest officer, then he’s more like to remain honest for the rest of his life because of mentoring by a good role model.


  • In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving.
  • Accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions, and policies and be answerable for resulting consequences.

Mindmap for Accountability

Source: IASbaba


  • Transparency means openness and compliance to rule which should be verifiable,visible and according to the norms.
  • Transparent conduct presumes open and honest communication, full disclosure of information and provides a reasonable expectation of straightforward exchange when parties have a legitimate stake in the possible outcomes or effects of the communicative act.

Ethical Reasoning & Moral Dilemmas

Ethical reasoning

  • pertains to the rights and wrongs of human conduct.
  • Each person has standards that are defined by their personal values which come into play when the person faces certain dilemmas or decisions.
  • Commonly, ethical differences occur as a result of individual interpretation of a subject or event, or may be political or religious in nature.


Ethical Dilemmas

  • An ethical dilemma is a complex situation that often involves an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another.

Reasons for ethical dilemmas

  • personal Cost – when compliance to ethical conduct resulting in personal cost 
  • Professional vs Personal stand – when conflict arises between professional direction and personal beliefs
  • Right vs Right – when it is difficult to choose between two ethically right options
  • Mismatch between codified rigid legal principles and requirement according to emerging situation
  • Law vs Society
  • New vs Old
  • Change in situation or place
  • Magnitude of impact of an action

How to resolve ethical dilemmas?

Ethical Dilemmas can be resolved by altering and reformulating all the options available in a systematic and coherent manner. It is advisable to make lexical order or sequence of logical reasoning sets to deal with dilemmas, e.g.

  1. Democratic accountability
  2. Rule of Law
  3. Professional Integrity
  4. Responsiveness and duty to society

Conscience as Source of Ethical Guidance

What is Conscience

  • Conscience is an aptitude, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong.
  • In psychological terms conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his moral values and and feelings of pleasure and well-being when our actions, thoughts and words are in conformity to our value systems..

How conscience can act as source of ethical guidance?

  • Conscience is the inherent intuitive capacity to differentiate between right and wrong. “Inner Voice” is important especially in democracy as it has multiple stakeholders such as citizens,NGOs,corporates to be administered by the politicians who are elected by them only.
  • But at individual level.every person has conscience which helps them to take important decision.Thus it can act as strong tool to evade away the individual self centered thinking.
  • Political Level:- Conscience can help in reducing corruption,nepotism and profit seeking behaviour.Thus provoke them to act in benevolence of society at large and uphold the constitution principles. At each and every decision they should keep in mind that they were elected to serve the citizens and not to serve their own needs and greeds
  • Bureaucratic Level- the crisis of conscience is important whether to just mere follow the orders from superiors v/s to follow the right path of judgement.Theinherent voice of serving the nation maintaining highest standards of integrity and probity is important as they are link between citizens and politicians.
  • Citizen Level:- Collective and individual conscience of citizens is very important because it defines the existing society conditions. eg.- keeping surrounding clean,actively participating in elections,dissent to undemocractic principles.Thusadhering to it will also curb mob injustice such as riots.lynching of criminals.
  • Moreover it is important to actively excel and improve at individual and institutionlevel.Thus if everyone acts and adhere to there principles values ,the moral degradement can be curbed and faith in governing institutions can be reinstituted.


Code of Conduct for Civil Servents

  • In India, the current set of ethical norms are the Conduct Rules, contained in the Central Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 and analogous rules applicable to members of the All India Services or employees of various State Governments.
  • The code of behaviour as enunciated in the Conduct Rules, while containing some general norms like ‘maintaining integrity and absolute devotion to duty’ and not indulging in ‘conduct unbecoming of a government servant’ is generally directed towards cataloguing specific activities deemed undesirable for government servants.
  • These conduct rules do not constitute a code of ethics.


  • Values are guiding principles of our life. Our values serve as a markers to tell if life is heading in the right direction.

Why do we need values?

  • Guide us in the right path
  • Help us to choose right work
  • Bring satisfaction in our work
  • Develop character
  • Sustainable growth, preserve culture and heritage
  • promote peace and harmony

Values & Governance

Good Governance is characterised by 9 major values-

  1. Inclusive
  2. Participatory
  3. Transparent
  4. Accountable
  5. Responsive
  6. Effective
  7. Efficient
  8. Equitable
  9. Consensus oriented

Values that characterise good governance

  • Encouraging Participation, listening to others and Consensus oriented
  • Abiding by law
  • Accountability
  • Equity and Inclusiveness
  • Responsive to people

Strengthening ethical values in Governance

  • Role of family, schools and education
  • Ethical Training for civil servents
  • ethical code of conduct
  • Tools like RTI, Citizen Charters