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Principles for Managing Ethics in the Public Services

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Principles for Managing Ethics in the Public Service (OECD) 

Summary AdviceThe OECD advises that countries should take action to ensure well-functioning institutions and systems for promoting ethical conduct in the public service. 

Main Points: Although governments have different cultural, political, and administrative environments, they often confront similar ethical challenges, and the responses in their ethics management show common characteristics.  With this in mind, the OECD recommends governments to:

  • Develop and regularly review policies, procedures, practices, and institutions influencing ethical conduct in the public service.
  • Promote government action to maintain high standards of conduct and counter corruption in the public sector.
  • Incorporate the ethical dimension into management frameworks to ensure that management practices are consistent with the values and principles of public service
  • Combining judiciously those aspects of ethics management systems based on ideals with those based on the respect of rules
  • Assessing the effects of public management reforms on public service ethical conduct
  • Using as a reference the Principles for Management Ethics in the Public Service to ensure high standards of ethical conduct.

To assist member countries with managing ethics in the public service, the OECD has developed a list of 12 key principles:

  1. Ethical standards for public service should be clear.  Public servants need to know the basic principles and standards they are expected to apply to their work and where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie.
  2. Ethical standards should be reflected in the legal framework. The legal framework is the basis for communicating the minimum obligatory standards and principles of behavior for every public servant. Laws and regulations should state the fundamental values of public service and should provide the framework for guidance, investigation, disciplinary action and prosecution.
  3. Ethical guidance should be available to public servants. Professional socialisation should contribute to the development of the necessary judgement and skills enabling public servants to apply ethical principles in concrete circumstances. Training facilitates ethics awareness and can develop essential skills for ethical analysis and moral reasoning.
  4. Public servants should know their rights and obligations when exposing wrongdoing. Public servants need to know what their rights and obligations are in terms of exposing actual or suspected wrongdoing within the public service.
  5. Political commitment to ethics should reinforce the ethical conduct of public servants. Political leaders are responsible for maintaining a high standard of propriety in the discharge of their official duties.
  6. The decision-making process should be transparent, and open to scrutiny. The public has a right to know how public institutions apply the power and resources entrusted to them. Public scrutiny should be facilitated by transparent and democratic processes, oversight by the legislature and access to public information.
  7. There should be clear guidelines for interaction between the public and private sectors. Clear rules defining ethical standards should guide the behaviour of public servants in dealing with the private sector, for example, regarding public procurement, outsourcing or public employment conditions.
  8. Managers should demonstrate and promote ethical conduct. As  organisational environment where high standards of conduct are encouraged by providing appropriate incentives for ethical behaviour, such as adequate working conditions and effective performance assessment, has a direct impact on the daily practice of public service values and ethical standards.
  9. Management policies, procedures and practices should promote ethical conduct. Management policies and practices demonstrate an organisation's commitment to ethical standards.  It is not sufficient for governments to have only rule-based or compliance-based structures.
  10. Public service conditions and management of human resources should promote ethical conduct.  Public service employment conditions, such as career prospects, personal development, adequate remuneration and human resource management policies should create an environment conducive to ethical behaviour.
  11. Adequate accountability mechanisms should be in place within the public service. Public servants should be accountable for their actions to their superiors and, more broadly, to the public. Accountability should focus both on compliance with rules and ethical principles and on achievement of results.
  12. Appropriate procedures and sanctions should exist do deal with misconduct.  Mechanisms for the detection and independent investigation of wrongdoing such as corruption are a necessary part of an ethics infrastructure.

 Source: OECD (1998). OECD, “Principles for Managing Ethics in the Public Service" , OECD Recommendation, PUMA Policy Brief, OECD Publishing at: (accessed 5 March, 2013).

Page Created By: Khilola B. Zakhidova. The content presented on this page is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases. This material does not necessarily reflect the official view of the publishing organization.

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