Ethics Management in the Public Sector is gaining momentum

Ethics management in the public sector has come a long way since its early days as part of government’s anti-corruption initiatives. The requirements for promoting ethics in the public service are nothing new.  The Constitution refers to the values of Public Administration and the Public Service Code of Conduct requires heads of department to promote ethical behaviour.  There might however initially have been a sense that these things would take care of themselves. 

 

Ethics management in the public sector has come a long way since its early days as part of government’s anti-corruption initiatives. 

The requirements for promoting ethics in the public service are nothing new.  The Constitution refers to the values of Public Administration and the Public Service Code of Conduct requires heads of department to promote ethical behaviour.  There might however initially have been a sense that these things would take care of themselves. 

Ethics management was subsequently introduced as part preventative component of the Minimum Anti-corruption Capacity Requirements guidelines in 2006.  These guidelines mentioned the role of an ethics champion, but there was no formal requirement for departments to establish this capacity and there was little movement.

With the introduction of the Public Service Integrity Management Framework (IMF) in 2013 we however started seeing a significant impetus in ethics management. This is perhaps mostly due to the fact that, for the first time, the responsibility for managing ethics has been assigned to specific structures and individuals.  The IMF requires that departments have ethics committees, ethics champions (or exco level ‘owners’ of the ethics programme) and ethics officers. 

While it is not a requirement that this be dedicated capacity, the mere fact that ethics management is now on someone’s KPIs, that there is exco involvement, and that there is governance oversight, has meant that programmes are starting to develop.  We are at the same time seeing a growing number of public service ethics officers being trained. 

In late 2013 we collaborated with the Department for Public Service and Administration (DPSA) to ensure that our Ethics Officer Certification Programme (EOCP) is aligned to the needs of Public Service ethics officers.  We have subsequently hosted 12 Public Sector Ethics Officer Certification Programmes and trained 198 ethics officers from across all spheres of government.  

Another very significant change that we have seen since the adoption of the Public Service Integrity Management Framework is that the DPSA is promoting ethics management as something separate from anti-corruption initiatives. 

This change is important in terms of the tone of interventions.  Rather than preventing corruption the focus is now on promoting ethical organisational cultures.  The new approach acknowledges the importance of a professional public service.  Instead of focusing on the negative, it taps into the positive vision that many public servants have for themselves.  

We are now seeing a growing cadre of ethics officers and ethics champions who are very committed to their new responsibilities and we look forward to the collective impact they will have in promoting a culture of professionalism in the public sector.

(If you are interested in attending Public Sector EOCP see here for information on our open course in October.)

 

Kris Dobie
April 2016