2. Setting high standards of conduct for public officials
The need for setting standards of conduct
The public sector is meant to perform functions for society as a whole. Setting high standards of integrity for public officials is a pre-condition to ensure that decisions are made in the public interest and processes and results are achieved according to shared values and standards of behaviour. To carry out public duties in accordance with ethical standards, public officials need to be aware of the legal standards and ethical expectations people have of public officials, as well as be able to understand the effect decisions have on people’s perception of the public service.
The purpose of a code of conduct and ethics
A code of conduct and ethics is a tool to create a common understanding of what kind of behaviour all public employees should observe in their daily tasks. It can be a helpful guidance on how to apply ethical norms and principles in the work life, supporting officials in making ethical decisions. A code provides public officials with clear guidance on the organisation’s norms of expected behaviour and details the way the organisation operates with integrity and in the public interest.
International conventions and instruments such as the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Integrity (2017) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (or UNCAC, 2004) recognise the use of codes of conduct and ethics as effective tools for articulating the values of the public sector and the expected conduct of the public officials in an easily understandable and flexible manner. The majority of OECD member countries have drawn up or updated codes of conduct or ethics in recent decades.
Examples of Core Public Service values defined in a code of conduct or ethics in OECD countries
Applying ethical values in practice
If a public official acts according to ethical values, it means:
- serving the public interest, without being influenced by personal interests
- acting with honesty and transparency
- making decisions based on fair and transparent criteria and not allowing decisions to be influenced by personal or private interests
- preventing and addressing improper conduct
- using public resources correctly, efficiently and effectively
Public Service Values as defined in the Slovak Civil Service Act
In Slovakia, the professional values, norms and requirements of the public service are governed by several acts (Act No. 552/2003 Coll., Act No. 55/2017 Coll., Act No. 73/1998 Coll., etc.).
In accordance with the Act No. 55/2017 Coll. on State Service and on Amendments to Some Acts, the performance of civil service is based on the following principles:
- political neutrality
- transparent employment
- effective management
- transparent and equal remuneration
- equal treatment
Several ministries and government agencies also have specific codes of ethics applicable to their staff.
Key points to remember
- By setting high standards of conduct, governments aim to promote integrity and accountability among public officials
- Public sector ethic codes articulate boundaries of behaviour as well as expectations of behaviour
- The values defined in codes of ethics or conduct can be different across countries and entities, however they all aim to ensure that decisions are made in the public interest according to transparent criteria