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How Can We Be Assured That American Public Servants Are Held to a High Level of Responsiveness, Fairness, Honesty, and Competence?

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The major problem for implementing effective Codes of Ethics remains that no law or Code will be of much value if individual civil servants lack the technical competence to recognise an ethics problem for what it is, or if they do not know what standards their organisation expects of them, or (worst of all), if they consider it to be not in their interests, personally or professionally, to take a stand for integrity and against corruption.

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Scandals involving public officials have captured world attention these days. Precipitated by shady privatization deals, the diversion of aid, widespread public sector patronage, crony capitalism, and campaign financing abuses, people are debating outright corruption and unprofessional behaviour in government. Are public officials held to higher standards of performance and conduct than others? If so, why? With the advent of the modern state, government officials have been and are seen as stewards of public resources and guardians of a special trust that citizens have placed in them. In return for this confidence, they are expected to put public interest above selfinterest. The public service, made up of those employees of the state who are covered by national and subnational civil service laws, plays an indispensable role in the sustainable development and good governance of a nation. It is an integral part of democracy because it serves as the neutral administrative structure which carries out the decisions of elected representatives of the people. It not only serves as the backbone of the state in implementing a strategy for economic growth of a nation but also runs the programmes that function as the safety net for the most vulnerable segments of a society

Given these crucial roles, a country expects its public service to demonstrate high standards of professionalism and ethics. Professionalism in the public service is an overarching value that determines how its activities will be carried out.

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Ethical values give us direction but are not sufficient to make us ethical researchers who avoid ethics dumping. One can hold the value of honesty and yet fail to be an honest person. One can hold the value of respect and yet cause harm when disrespecting local customs. Values can motivate and they can help to establish moral goals, but they do not explain how to achieve them. A means of operationalizing values is needed. One method would be to cultivate virtues that are aligned with the values. As noted above, virtues are positive character traits individuals build over time which are needed for human flourishing. Once a value such as honesty becomes second nature, one can say that honesty is a virtue of that person. If all researchers developed the virtues of fairness, respect, care and honesty, then being an ethical researcher would come naturally to them. However, this is far from easy, and the development of virtues takes time. It is perhaps possible for researchers who have worked in the field for many years, and have a wealth of knowledge and experience, but certainly not for young researchers who need training, guidance and practice. For all those who are still developing their virtues, a code such as the GCC can help to guide action. As noted at the outset, people are much more contented and productive when their own values are aligned with company or institutional values and rules. It therefore made sense to align the articles of the GCC with those values that are necessary for ethical research and to which researchers must aspire. The values of fairness, respect, care and honesty provide the ethos, the motivation and the goals for ethical research. The 23 articles making up the GCC therefore enable operationalization of the values. This leaves the task of outlining what is meant by each of the four values of fairness, respect, care and honesty, keeping in mind the following important points. First, precise specifications of values might be affected by customs and preferences, so that different cultures have different views on the exact content of the values

Second, the importance of process cannot be underestimated. The reason why articles 25 and 46 of the GCC emphasize inclusion is that the specification of what each value requires in a given setting needs to be determined collaboratively. As a result, this sketch of the content of the four values is brief and leaves room for regional variations. Arguably the most prominent theory of the motivational power of human values was developed by social psychologist Shalom Schwartz, back in 1992. Schwartz’s theory of basic values is distinctive because, unlike most other theories, it has been tested via extensive empirical investigation. Studies undertaken since the early 1990s have generated large data sets from 82 countries, including highly diverse geographic, cultural, religious, age and occupational groups (Schwartz 2012). Findings from Schwartz’s global studies indicate that values are inextricably linked to affect. He claims that when values are activated, they become infused with feeling (Schwartz 2012). For example, people for whom routine and security are important values will become disturbed when their employment is threatened and may fall into despair if they actually lose their jobs. Correspondingly, when moral values like fairness or respect are important, people will react when they witness instances of unfairness or disrespect; they will feel motivated to respond in some way (Kaufmann E, 2016).

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Obviously, these are people not interested in becoming rich, but making an honorable wage while they are doing a meaningful job

It provides an opportunity for them to support their families while doing work that makes a difference. Our public servants are as capable and intelligent as their counterparts in the private sector, but how they are unique is their willingness to forego personal gain in light of making the world a better place. They seek out meaning over profit. It may sound “Pollyannaish”, but I assure you that this depiction is reality.

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Huijer M, van Leeuwen E (2000) Personal values and cancer treatment refusal. Journal of Medical Ethics 26(5):358–362

ISO (nd) ISO 26000: social responsibility. International Organization for Standardization.

Kaufmann E (2016) It’s NOT the economy, stupid: Brexit as a story of personal values. British Politics and Policy. London School of Economics and Political Science.

Schwartz SH (2012) An overview of the Schwartz theory of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture 2(1):11

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