Ethics and capability

5th April 2019

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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It is interesting to note that the National School of Government’s mandatory and compulsory programmes – launched last month as part of renewed efforts to improve the performance of South Africa’s public sector – include a compulsory programme titled Ethics in the Public Service.

No doubt, the course will traverse the basic code of conduct expected of the country’s one-million public servants and will offer practical guidelines for managing the ethical dilemmas that are sure to arise over the course of their careers. It may not even be a bad idea, however, for course graduates to be issued with a copy of the ‘code of governance pledge’ drafted by former Public Service Commission head Professor Stan Sangweni.

The code may have been written well before the governance- destroying State capture era, but it remains as relevant as ever. It reads as follows:

  • I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution of the Republic;
  • Therefore I shall at all times uphold and maintain the Constitution of the Republic;
  • To this end, I shall at all times act in compliance with the core values and principles enshrined in the Constitution;
  • Therefore, in all actions in discharge of my duties, I shall conduct myself with the highest standard of professional ethics and spurn conflict of interest;
  • I shall promote and maintain economic, effective and efficient use and management of human and financial resources in public administration;
  • I shall ensure that public administration is development oriented;
  • I shall ensure that public services are provided to all the citizens of South Africa impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias;
  • I commit myself to respond to people’s needs promptly and to encourage the public to participate in policy-making regarding services to them;
  • I commit myself to accountability for all my actions in the discharge of my responsibilities and, to this end, shall hold myself open to public scrutiny on all my actions;
  • I shall foster transparency by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information;
  • I shall adhere to meritocracy by ensuring that employment and management practices in the public service or State-owned enterprises are based on merit, ability, objectivity and fairness;
  • I shall ensure that no employee in the public service and State-owned enterprises is favoured or prejudiced only because that person supports a particular party or cause.
  • So Help Me God! I so Affirm!

Living up to such a pledge, however, requires more than willpower. As Professor Lynn Paine, of Harvard Business School, highlighted during a 2016 lecture in Johannesburg on ethics and governance, there is a critical relationship between a person’s level of competence and the person’s ability to act ethically.

In other words, absent the requisite skills, even an ethical employee can run into difficulty. Absent values and ethics, though, a skilled employee can take us down an exceedingly destructive path, be it at a Home Affairs office, at Eskom’s Megawatt Park head office, or, indeed, even in the Union Buildings!

Edited by Terence Creamer
Creamer Media Editor


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