Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity

Concept of public service, Governance and Probity

Public Service

  • The term public service carries different meanings. The first meaning of ‘public service’ is in the sense of a public utility, i.e., it refers to the kind of services governments commonly provide- electricity, healthcare, maintenance of law and order, urban and rural infrastructure, etc.- where the prime criteria of success are availability, affordability and accessibility of services. In this connection, the delivery of public service means the goods and services offered by government institutions to the public, and it includes the interface between the citizen and the administration.
  • A public service is a service which is provided by government to people. Services are provided or supported by a government or its agencies. Public service is done to help people rather than to make a profit.
  • A public service may sometimes have the characteristics of a public good (being non-rivalrous and non-excludable i.e. individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others), but most cases public services are services.
  • Second meaning of public service refers to all the public functionaries including all those working in the army as well as the judiciary and the executive.


  • Probity is the evidence of ethical behaviour in a particular process. The term probity means integrity, uprightness and honesty. For Government employees and agencies, maintaining probity involves more than simply avoiding corrupt or dishonest conduct. It involves applying public sector values such as impartiality, accountability and transparency.
  • Probity is also regarded as being incorruptible. However, probity goes further than the avoidance of being dishonest because it is determined by intangibles like personal and societal values. It is also regarded as strict adherence to a code of ethics based on undeviating honesty, especially in commercial (monetary) matters and beyond legal requirements.
  • Ensuring probity in public services is part of every public official’s duty to adopt processes, practices and behavior that enhance and promote public service values.

Probity in Governance

  • Apart from the traditional civil service values of efficiency, integrity, accountability and patriotism, it is necessary for civil servants to inculcate and adopt ethical and moral values including probity in public life, respect for human rights and compassion for the downtrodden and commitment to their welfare.
  • Probity in governance is an essential and vital requirement for an efficient and effective system of governance and for socio-economic development. An important requisite for ensuring probity in governance is absence of corruption. The other requirements are effective laws, rules and regulations governing every aspect of public life and, more important, an effective and fair implementation of those laws, etc.

Probity Principles

  • There are several generally accepted probity principles that serve to maintain the integrity of a process. These are:
  • Accountability: It is the obligation to be able to explain or account for the way duties have been performed. Government should have appropriate mechanisms in place to show that they are accountable for their practices and decisions.
  • Transparency: It is important that the process is transparent to the maximum extent possible so that all stakeholders can have confidence in the outcomes. Transparent, open processes also minimise the opportunity for, and the risk of, fraud and corruption.
  • Confidentiality: As a condition of employment, all public servants are under a general obligation of confidentiality to their employer. All Government advisors, members and any other third party that is privy to commercially sensitive information must provide a formal undertaking to Government that they will keep this information confidential.
  • Management of Conflicts of Interest: A conflict of interest arises where an individual associated with the process is, through their particular associations or circumstances, influenced, or perceived to be influenced, to obtain an unfair advantage for him or herself or another party. Conflicts of interest are often unavoidable. However, provided they are identified early and dealt with effectively, they need not prejudice the process. It is important to ensure that individuals associated with the process are aware of how a conflict of interest arises and their responsibilities to report conflicts, ensure conflicts are adequately addressed, and ensure the manner in which they have been addressed is adequately documented. Policies to deal with potential conflicts of interest should be established at the outset, rather than attempting to manage such issues on an ad-hoc basis as they arise.

Philosophical Basis of Governance and Probity

  • The ethical concerns of governance have been underscored widely in Indian scriptures and other treatises such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvad Gita, Buddha Charita, Arthashastra, Panchatantra, Manusmriti, Hitopadesh etc. Also the maxims on ethical governance were provided by the Chinese philosophers such as Lao Tse, Confucius and Mencius.
  • In the Western philosophy, there are three eminent schools of ethics.
  1. The first, inspired by Aristotle, holds that virtues (such as justice, charity and generosity) are dispositions to act in ways that benefit the possessor of these virtues and the society of which he is a part.
  2. The second, subscribed to mainly by Immanual Kant, makes the concept of duty central to morality: human beings are bound, from knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical imperative to respect other rational beings with whom they interact.
  3. The third is the utilitarian viewpoint that asserts that the guiding principle of conduct should be the greatest happiness (or benefit) of the greatest number.
  • The Western thought is full of ethical guidelines to rulers, whether in a monarch or a democracy. These concerns are found in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Penn, John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke, and others.
  • The gist of wisdom on administrative ethics is that the public administrators are the “guardians” of the Administrative state. Hence, they are expected to honour public trust and not violate it. Two crucial questions raised in this context are “why should guardians be guarded? And “Who guards the guardian?” The administrators need to be guarded against their tendency to misconceive public interest, promote self-interest, indulge in corruption and cause subversion of national interest. And they need to be guarded by the external institutions such as the judiciary, legislature, political executive, media and civil society, organisations. These various modes of control become instruments of accountability.
  • The current discipline of public administration accords primacy to the ‘values’ of equity, justice, humanism, human rights, gender equality and compassion. The movement of Good Governance, initiated by the World Bank in 1992, lays stress on the ethical and moral conduct of administrators. While the New Public Management movement is more concerned with administrative effectiveness, the New Public Administration focuses on administrative ethics in its broader manifestation. Both the movements are complementary to each other. This complementarity of foci is as truer today as it was a hundred years ago when the industrial world was experiencing the rise of Scientific Management amidst a strong acceptance of the notion of administrative responsibility. John Kennedy, during his Presidency of USA (1961-1963) had averred: “No responsibility of government is more fundamental than the responsibility of maintaining the higher standards of ethical behavior”.
  • The ideal-type construction of bureaucracy, propounded by Max Weber also highlighted an ethical imperative of bureaucratic behaviour. Weber (1947) observed: In the rational type, it is a matter of principle that the members of the administrative staff should be completely separated from ownership of the means of production and administration. Officials, employees and workers attached to the administrative staff do not themselves own the non-human means of production and administration. There exists, furthermore, in principle complete separation of property belonging to the organisation, which is controlled within the sphere of office, and the personal property of the official, which is available for his own private uses.

Objective of Probity in Governance

  • To ensure accountability in governance;
  • To maintain integrity in public services;
  • To ensure compliance with processes;
  • To preserve public confidence in Government processes;
  • To avoid the potential for misconduct, fraud and corruption.


Difference between Amoral and Immoral:

  • Amoral is someone who is not aware (doesn’t know) how to differentiate between what is wrong and what is right. An amoral person has no sense of care or conscience whether the act he is doing is morally wrong.
  • On the other hand, immoral is someone who does things that aren’t good enough in the moral sense. Thus, this person continues to do things even if he knows it is really wrong.

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