Value and Ethics in Governance

Values are what we judge to be right and to behave in a manner consistent with what is right is called ethics. In other words, values determine what is right and what is wrong in a given situation, and doing right or wrong is what we mean by ethics. Universal values like duty, integrity, honesty and loyalty are absolutes beyond the dimension of time, space or age which stand self-validated and remain unchanged. Good governance of society at large and public life in particular is a product of the quality of decisions and actions of all citizens, particularly public servants.

Law of Karma essentially delves upon certain postulation and principles. It says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction and that every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause. The effect invariably returns to the cause and like cause will have like effect. The intent behind an action is the prime cause producing the effect. Also action in one field may lead to results in various fields of life. Besides results of a person’s action will also affect or return to those who are emotionally or by inheritance bound to him or her. It should always to be kept in mind that the law of karma is inexorable and inevitable, and it cannot be escaped.

Law of Karma attaches prime significance and insists on duty based action. So in our day to day conduct, whether as an ordinary citizen or a public servant, we need to assess as to what is the call of duty and our responses need to be firmed up accordingly. Duty may depend on ingredients like righteousness, conscience, capability and contemporary social ethos. Years back, I had come across an excellent paradigm of duty based action from the great epic Ramayana, which, in my opinion, even today holds an excellent illustration of duty based action.

Muni Vashistha, the Guru of the royal family of Ayodhya, is requested by king Dasarath to inform Ram that the following day the latter will succeed to the throne. In turn, Ram immediately seeks the Guru’s guidance and blessings to equip him shouldering this mammoth responsibility. Things, however, take a different turn and on the insistence of his youngest queen Kaikeyi, king Dasarath changes his mind and he asks Ram to go away for fourteen years from the very kingdom which he was to rule. Ram immediately proceeds to prepare for his journey to the forest without a second thought.

Let’s see what other options were open to Ram in the given circumstances:

  • He could have put pressure on Dasarath to assert himself before his errant queen;
  • He could have remonstrated before Kaikeyi, when the news of banishment was broken to him;
  • He could have requested the Guru Vashishtha to suitably advise Kaikeyi on propriety;
  • He could have asked his mother Kaushalya to intercede on his behalf with Kaikeyi and Dasarath;
  • He could have gone to Raj Parishad with request to intervene and protect his rights;
  • He could have directly gone to people of Ayodhya to indicate their preference, cashing in on his obvious popularity with them;
  • He could have tried making a compromise offer to Bharat giving him part of the kingdom instead of the whole;
  • He could have set up Lakshaman or Shatrughna as a puppet king taking advantage of their proximity with him;
  • He could have exercised a more down to earth option of bumping off Bharat, and if necessary, even Kaikeyi and Manthara as well.

Needless to mention, all the above options would have needed reels of intrigue, and spinning a fibrosis of tension and conflict among blood relations and beloved ones. Ram did what was simpler and most dignified course of action in the given situation. Dignified acceptance of a situation which is not of our making and beyond our control and channeling of available energy towards performance of a discernable duty under a given set of circumstances is so much simpler and straight. Besides it carries the wholesome feeling of doing what should rightly be done.


Good governance is a cherished goal for public servants particularly in a developing country like ours where they are expected to strive for professional excellence, to be more transparent and fair in all of their transactions and respond with honesty and integrity to the requirements of the citizens. On the contrary, our bureaucracy is typically procedure driven with the system not designed for optimum productivity. Conventional methods of tackling issues and problems have its’ own dynamics and built up inefficiencies and delays. Experimentation with the latest methods and technology is bare minimum and often outdated rules and procedures are insisted upon.

The public servants, while doing their duties, are specially influenced by psychological and social environment besides traditional values of rule conformity, efficiency, effectiveness and economy. Root causes for decline in their value system and ethical norms are lack of transparency, scarcity of product and services, red-tapism, often archaic rules and procedures, vested interests and greed, the judicial process, and consequent inbuilt inefficiency, corruption and delays.

Usually, the factors determining values and ethics of public servants are their own sense of values, background and belief in honesty and integrity. Social condition too has some effect. For illustration, the city life provides ideal condition for erosion of values with no shame associated while a village or small town society provides greater transparency in social life and greater sense of shame due to peer pressures.

Values a public servant is expected to imbibe include integrity - financial and intellectual, respect for an individual as human being irrespective of his status, sense of time i.e. to choose between perfection and speed, transparency in administration, credible and effective leadership, protection of human rights, aesthetics and elegance. Another crucial factor is to choose between doing things rightly or doing the right things.

While an organization at best can lay down some principles and code of conduct for better governance with its own system of reward and punishment, values and ethics are largely person specific traits. One may, therefore, need to have introspection and ask himself what changes are needed in his or her attitudes and work practices to serve citizens in a fair and friendly manner, to be accountable for management, clients and public in general and to remain vigilant against the evils of corruption, inefficiency, conflict of interest etc.

These are some ethical or moral questions which must be addressed by all citizens and particularly by the public servants for the sake of good governance. Besides, values and ethics in public life is not an end but a means of achieving wider goal of good governance in public interest. Good governance should lead to greater efficiency, effectiveness and economy in delivering public goods and services besides minimizing corruption, inefficiency and delays.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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