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How ethics can be instilled in civil servants by training | Column

Many people believe that ethics cannot be taught, at least not past early childhood. However, this view is refuted by modern psychologists, who have demonstrated that there is a certain kind of wisdom that comes only from experience.

columns Updated: Aug 24, 2017 19:26 IST
Civil servants,Ethics,Krishna Mohan
(Representative Image/Getty Images)

Ever imagined going to a government office and receiving a warm welcome, besides also getting your work done in a hassle-free manner? Well, most of you would only laugh at this thought. Why is there such a negative image of government servants? Do they belong to a different planet? Or, are they born to be such creatures having a different culture and set of values than the general public? Should they be immune to the talk of propriety, efficient service, and fairness? The answer probably lies in the diminution of ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ in society in general and in public governance in particular.

Increasingly, every action of government servants is coming under public scrutiny: by the media, by NGOs and through the Right to Information (RTI). For the citizenry to retain its trust in government, it must have confidence that those in public service are at all times acting in the best interest of the public with fairness, and manage the public resources properly. Government servants should evolve as a service providers, and not just as a strong arm of the government to enforce the law.

Every scandal creates a sense of urgency as to how the behaviour of our public servants can be corrected, if not transformed. Though there is lot of emphasis in the government on finding ways to curb and fight corruption with institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Lokpal, etc, all of these are in the direction of educating officials about negative impacts that their actions can bring to their professional and personal life. However, it is realised that such mechanisms and legal enforcements are not sufficient to promote responsible practices. Therefore, it is increasingly realised that a good grounding in ethics and values through training could probably be a mechanism to promote good governance. If ethics can be taught in B-schools, then why can’t government servants be sensitised about ‘ethics and values in public governance’?

Many people believe that ethics cannot be taught, at least not past early childhood. However, this view is refuted by modern psychologists, who have demonstrated that there is a certain kind of wisdom that comes only from experience, and ethical reasoning improves with instructions and practice. Although good upbringing may provide a kind of moral compass, it is not the only factor determining ethical conduct. The opportunity to influence moral reasoning of government servants clearly exists.

The next challenge is ‘what to teach’. For this, the department of personnel and training (DoPT), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), developed a national pool of trainers and facilitators. Ethical positions that are universally accepted, and not confined to a particular religion, were adopted to overcome the issue of religious neutrality.

The course was conceptualised to be free from the jargon of philosophy, social science or management studies, albeit the essential elements from these streams have been included.

Any training in ethics tends to give condescending lectures on morality. This does not go down well with trainees. Therefore, the methodology adopted for conducting this programme has been of andragogy, wherein the three primary learning styles — visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic — were used.

IC Centre for Governance (ICCfG) has been a nodal agency, under the aegis of whom this programme was planned and organised using the premises and resources of Initiative for Change (IC), Asia Plateau, Panchgani. The partners in this journey have also been NGOs, individuals, retired bureaucrats, and experts from a consultant firm, Pragati International Ltd. Funding was arranged through UNDP, and this whole scheme was synthesised in the DoPT training division.

All the 19 trainers were grouped into the teams of two or three. Each such team was tasked with imparting training at various state-level Administrative Training Centres. The impact has been assessed on the basis of numerous responses and feedback from participants, wherein the participants are asked to give commitment to themselves, as to any one change that they will bring in their personal and work life after attending this programme. The responses received have been up to the mark and reflect the success of the programme.

It is now felt that this effort is now required to be scaled up, both vertically and horizontally. Some of the trainers are now trying to develop similar modules for schoolchildren and for the general public too.

Teaching about ethics is not about inculcating absolute positions that one is required to take in a given situation. The purpose is not necessarily to answer questions, but to raise them, and provide public servants with prescriptions, ideas, methods with which such questions must be discussed. There may not be consensus on the ‘right answer’ in ethics, nonetheless this is not an insurmountable hurdle.

(The writers are national facilitators of the Government of India on ‘ethics and values in public governance’. Mohan is a retired IAS officer of the Haryana cadre; Khanna is a director with the ministry of defence. Views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 19:26 IST