ABSTRACT

I Governance and ethics are intertwined. A government functions within certain broad moral and ethical parameters, integrally linked with the sociological foundation of the polity in which it is articulated. The importance of ethics in governance has acquired a significant place in contemporary theoretical discussion, more so because of the growing decadence in governmental practices largely owing to a decline of ethical values in public administration which is perhaps singularly responsible for the rise of ‘corruption’ in a virulent form. The possible reason is located in the overgrowth of the state through which bureaucracy has become a ‘rent-seeker’, ignoring its Benthamite role of being ‘a benevolent guardian’. The World Bank-sponsored solution is to downsize the state and allow free play of the market and civil society – consolidating the ideology of neo-liberalism. Whether this is an appropriate strategy for the developing and also underdeveloped nations is a challenging question that needs to be addressed, underlining the importance of ‘public’ in public administration. This is a challenge that involves a thorough analysis of the circumstances and also the outcome in a historical context because the dwindling of ethics in governance is not an overnight phenomenon, but an offshoot of a long-term process. It is difficult to conclusively define the term ethics, which is usually a context-driven conceptualization. Nonetheless, on the basis of the literature on administrative ethics, one can derive a meaningful definition of what ethics is all about. One of the prominent thinkers F M Marx, in his 1949 article in American Political Science Review, sought to conceptualize the idea by linking it with the prevalent political ideology that the machinery of government is expected to translate into social reality. Public administration is thus an instrument in attaining the purpose of the political order. ‘The core of administrative ethics [thus] lies’, argued Marx, ‘in the ideas that nourish the political system’, implying thereby that the administrators are not free to follow their own personal values in the course of their professional activities, but are obligated to be ‘conscious agents of a democratic community’ and to direct their action ‘toward promoting the healthy growth of a free society dedicated to the common good’.1 Ethics is therefore a set of standards that society places on itself to articulate its responses

to societal needs. Mere adoption of rules cannot inject ethics in human behaviour; what is thus required in firmly promoting a culture of integrity in administration is also a set of mechanisms to execute rules and regulations by putting in place competent disciplinary agencies to investigate violations and deviations, and also to impose sanctions quickly. Corruption is an important manifestation of the failure of ethics. The word – ‘corrupt’ – is derived from the Latin word corruptus, meaning ‘to break or destroy’. The word ‘ethics’ is from the original Greek term ‘ethikos’, meaning ‘arising from habit’. In defining corruption, the idea of ethics appears very critical. Although corruption represents ‘deviation’ from established norms, there is hardly a universal definition because of its contextual roots. Nonetheless, the definition provided by Carl J Friedrich seems to have captured its complex texture. For him, corruption is

a kind of behaviour which deviates from the norm actually prevalent or believed to prevail in a given context. . . . It is a deviant behaviour associated with a particular motivation, namely that of private gain at public expense. . . . Such private gain may be monetary one, and in the minds of the general public it usually is, but it may take other forms.2