Analysis: KELVIN SIWALE
ETHICS are standards of moral behaviour or moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or execution of an activity. Ethics speak to your conscience and tell you what is right or wrong.
Whenever you encounter an ethical dilemma, press ethics push button. You’ll never go wrong unless you choose to ignore your conscience.
Essentially, not every act that we can think of is codified in the law or regulations. There is, therefore, a gap between what is legal and illegal. This is the point where the importance of ethics in public life cannot be over emphasised. If you come to think of it, most of us only consider legality before we act; if it is legal then it’s fine, this is not true with ethics. Ethics go beyond legality, thus we can say not every act that is lawful may be ethical. Thus if one is ethical, they are less likely to break the law.
Now before we proceed, we shall look at two theories which explain how people make decisions and end up engaging in corruption or abuse of office. The first one being the Consequentialist Moral Reasoning theory, also known as the utilitarian approach, associated with Jeremy Bentham & John Stuart Mill. The feature of interest about this theory is that, the end of an action justifies the means. According to this theory, it does not matter what route somebody uses if the end is good then no one cares. Simply put, the theory assumes that the end justifies the means. It is this kind of thinking that promotes wrong decision making which culminates into abuse of office. Wrong decisions claim more public resources than would if procedure was followed. Particularly, in the procurement process wrong decisions, will result in failure to obtain value for money which is a criminal offence, it is not all about delivering a product but how you do it, matters a lot.
For instance, if your task is to have a public school erected, whether you engage a contractor according to tender procedure or not, you will still have your school built. However, the issue is that despite achieving your goal, you have not followed procedure and the cost in such circumstances is normally higher than usual because there are obvious reasons motivating the skipping of procedure. The Anti-corruption Act number 3 of 2012, criminalises acts like this, where officers wilfully fail to comply with applicable procedure or law.
The second theory is the Principal Based Moral Reasoning, associated with Immanuel Kant, this theory focuses on dos’ and don’ts (rules). The key feature that we will pick for purposes of our discourse is that doing what is right, is not about the results of our actions or the position of status of who was doing it but it should be based on principals. Thus according to Kant if the end is good it does not mean the process (means) is justified or because the action was executed by an officer who is held in high esteem then everything is right, no!! We need to operate according to the principles set out in line with what we are trying to achieve, there should be no short cuts.
Doing things because that is the way our predecessors were doing them is unprofessional because if they were not following the law, the status quo will continue. Let’s always weigh our decisions on legal beam balance, if they don’t balance with the law, stop and do the right thing. This is what defines professionalism. For instance, if we talk about procurement, the law provides clear methods that should be able to suit every situation that may be encountered in the process. Further, ethical values should mirror our decisions, if the mirror image of our decision looks different from the object prescribed by law/ethics, stop before you commit crime or unethical conduct.
To promote ethics in the public service, the Government of the Republic of Zambia developed the code of ethics for the public service. The said code has 10 core values, which include; Integrity, Honesty, Objectivity, Impartiality, Loyalty, Respect, Accountability, Excellence, Confidentiality and Selflessness. It is expected that all public officers should abide by the said core values. For instance, the values of integrity, accountability and loyalty sum up everything and, once embraced, will go a long way in curbing unprofessionalism in the public service. Further, private institutions should also promote ethics in the running of their affairs. As we all know, corruption is rampant at the interface between the public and private sector, so promoting ethics will go a long way in moulding organisational actions. This will in turn curb corruption in our transactions. It’s time organisations identified and started promoting their ethical values.
The author is an Anti-Corruption expert.