Codes of Conduct and Codes of Ethics : A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the responsibilities of ¬ or proper practices for ¬ an individual or organization. Related concepts include codes of ethics and honour codes. One definition of a “Code of Conduct” is “principles, values, standards, or rules of behaviour that guide the decisions, procedures and systems of an organization in a way that
(a) contributes to the welfare of its key stakeholders, and
(b) respects the rights of all constituents affected by its operations.”
Several international and national agencies have developed Codes of Conduct or Codes of Ethics for their employees. This ethical standard setting is to a large extent based on Weberian principles. It can be an important guide to making decisions on complicated ethical issues, and they can provide the basis for an environment where citizens are aware of the basic standards of behaviour to be expected from public sector employees. International codes of conduct or codes of ethics can support national public sector statutes and criminal laws, and can add to the national legal framework.
One international standard is the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. However, the most renowned codes is the Model Codes of Conduct for Public Officials developed by the Council of Europe and adopted by the Member States in 2000. These codes serve as a reference point and an ideal for many state administrations; they are intended to set a precedent for countries drafting their own mandatory codes of conduct. Many of the standards are similar to the United Nations Code of Conduct, but the Council of Europe text goes further into aspects of public service conduct linked to anti-corruption measures and policies.
The Council of Europe’s Model Code applies to all public officials (meaning persons employed by a public authority), and every public official has the duty to take all necessary action to comply with the provisions of the code. The purpose of the code is to specify the standards of integrity and conduct to be observed by public officials, to help them meet those standards and to inform the public of the conduct it is entitled to expect of public officials.
The general principles of the code states (among other provisions) that the public official should carry out his or her duties in accordance with the law, and with those lawful instructions and ethical standards which relate to his or her functions, and that the public official should act in a politically neutral manner and should not attempt to frustrate the lawful policies, decisions or actions of the public authorities (article 4).
Furthermore, the public official has the duty to serve loyally the lawfully constituted national, local or regional authority, and he/she is expected to be honest, impartial and efficient and to perform his or her duties to the best of his or her ability with skill, fairness and understanding, having regard only for the public interest and the relevant circumstances of the case (article 5).
The code also states that in the performance of his or her duties, the public official should not act arbitrarily to the detriment of any person, group or body and should have due regard for the rights, duties and proper interests of all others (article 6).
In decision making the public official should act lawfully and exercise his or her discretionary powers impartially, taking into account only relevant matters (article 7).
Important is also article 8, which says that the public official should not allow his or her private interest to conflict with his or her public position. It is his or her responsibility to avoid such conflicts of interest, whether real, potential or apparent. The public official should never take undue advantage of his or her position for his or her private interest. Any conflict of interest is to be avoided (article 13). Conflict of interest is a situation in which the public official has a private interest that can influence, or appear to influence, the impartial and objective performance of his or her official duties. It includes any advantage to himself, to his family, close relatives, friends and persons or organisations with whom he has or has had business or political relations.
The public official who occupies a position in which his personal or private interests are likely to be affected by his or her official duties should, as lawfully required, declare upon appointment and at regular intervals thereafter the nature and extent of those interests (article 14).
The code furthermore speaks about the duty always to conduct himself or herself in a way that the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity, impartiality and effectiveness of the public service are preserved and enhanced; that the public official is accountable to his or her immediate hierarchical superior unless otherwise prescribed by law, and that the public official has a duty to treat appropriately, with all necessary confidentiality, all information and documents acquired by him or her in the course of, or as a result of, his or her employment.
Another duty is that a public official who believes he or she is being required to act in a way which is unlawful, improper or unethical, which involves mal-administration, or which is otherwise inconsistent with this Code, should report the matter to the competent authorities (article 12).
Article 16 states that the public official should take care that none of his political activities or involvement on political or public debates impairs the confidence of the public in his ability to perform his duties impartially and loyally. In the exercise of his duties, the public official should not allow himself or herself to be used for partisan political purposes.
Article 18 states that the public official should not demand or accept gifts,favours, hospitality or any other benefit for himself or his or her family, close relatives and friends, or persons or organisations with whom he or she has or has had business or political relations. (This does not include conventional hospitality or minor gifts). If the public official is offered an undue advantage he or she should take steps to protect himself (article 19).
The public official should not offer or give any advantage in any way connected with his position as a public official, unless lawfully authorised to do so (article 21).
Finally, article 23 states that in the exercise of his discretionary powers, the public official should ensure that on the one hand the staff, and on the other hand the public property, facilities, services and financial resources with which he is entrusted are managed and used effectively, efficiently and economically. They should not be used for private purposes except when permission is lawfully given.