REMARKS ON THE ETHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION.

Author:Georgescu, Stefan-Dominic
Position::Report
 
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  1. Introduction

    Public administration seems to be--in nowadays world--a rather "hot" issue; either for socialists, conservatives, liberals or libertarians public administration is a tool meant to be used for implementing some policies--and policies spring from ideologies and politics. There are, also, some legal issues and there is, of course, the issue of public property or public domain--the main concern here being not to allow any pressure group or social category to use what belong to "the people" for their own interests. And all these are just a small percentage of the top of the public affairs iceberg.

    What people should keep in mind is--as the author of the present paper believes--that above and beyond all these social debates and concerns there is a field of research--and, also, an existential dimension of the human being --that can offer the key (or the method to produce it) for all these problems--at least until society changes and some other issues and difficulties appear. This is ethics.

    The present paper endeavors in sketching some remarks on the ethical foundations of public administration, starting from the assumptions that public administration is, above all, the realm where ethical remarks are most welcomed and suitable. Since it is simply madness even to pretend to cover all ethical issues concerning public administration within a few pages, the focus will be on three main points: the difference between business ethics and public administration ethics; commitment of public servants; the oath of public servants (or public clerks) and its link to moral integrity. One will further show how these three represent the ethical core of dealing with public affairs and furthermore, the inner relationship among these three. The scientific hypothesis that is to be tested--although by means of philosophical inquiry, i. e. examination of ideas--is whether a moral bias of public administration policies is able to serve a higher good or, on the contrary, it is just an useless burden that hinders social welfare and happiness.

  2. Creating a Public Servant's Profile: Ethics as a Tool

    Unfortunately--and annoyingly for people that have a minimal philosophical and ethical expertise--ethics is usually associated with public opprobrium, disdain and punishment; and, of course, since almost all people have moral intuitions, most of them claim to have ethical expertise. Still, ethics--and most of all, in the case of public affairs--has to do with creating a moral profile; no matter how deep is the public disdain, the only moral tribunal remains own conscience. Second of all, the main concerns among nowadays experts seem to be focused more on legal duties and less on ethical issues--and this was the reason for attempting to test the abovementioned hypothesis, whether ethics is an advantage or a philosophical-speculative burden that hinders social action.

    The main questions that are to be answered are related to the very nature of public service and to public servants' duties. So far, public clerks seemed to be considered as employees of the citizens--although this kind of perspective is to be blamed for most of the difficulties pertaining to public service. If, from a legal point of view, public servants are, indeed, employees, it is the ethical approach that makes a difference. First of all, in case of private companies, an employee is a person that holds a job contract, and moral issues come last. Most of his or her obligations are related to the company's need to obtain and increase profits. In the case of public servants ethical issues come first. There is a contract between a public servant and the employer, but the very nature of public servants' duties resides in their moral relationship with the employer, not in increasing profits. Thus, secondly, public servants must never be considered as mere employees of the state or of the people. They are not supposed to increase anybody's profits--profits are not a relevant coordinate of the system. Be this a profits shape relationship, then it would be rather impossible to distinguish the state from a private company and also the private and public sectors. A public servant is supposed to sustain a certain policy established by the elected state leaders --and this policy must not serve the interests of one or the other, but to set up and support a social structure that does not hinder private or personal attempts to obtain benefits. So, the rules that shape social structure--those which public servants are supposed to apply--must be neutral, and so must the public clerks. As for profits and/or benefits, these are mere private goals of individuals or companies; the public servants' job is to make things right or equitable for all citizens and/or companies, and not to make things profitable. This is why for a public servant being an employee is merely a formal and legal way to relate with society, his or her main or primary job being an ethical one--and ethics means making things good and right. For a business employee thing go the other way around. If business ethics is the peak of a socially integrated business--meaning that it represents the full social adulthood of companies and the recognition that they are not meant to make profits, but also to sustain the human society, on the other hand public administration ethics is the very foundation of public affairs and a sine qua non condition.

    Another issue that cannot be avoided when it comes to public administration ethics is the relationship between public servants and government. In a free society the state is led--and leading must be separated from managing--by politicians that are elected. Politicians, as it is, represent the interests of various social groups and categories. They are supposed to direct the state towards a preferred point and it is their job to protect and serve the interests of the people who elected them. So, one way or another, politicians are submitted to this goal of generating or, at least, sustaining benefits. On the other hand, public servants must be politically neutral and make sure that no one is injured: if political leaders tend to favor those that supported them, public service must be fair and equitable for all citizens, no matter their political membership or the lack of it. One of the most important aspects of pubic servants' moral duty is to support governmental policies--since politicians have political and...

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