Public Sector Ethics : The freedoms and welfare are usually understood as the state or the public sector. The state is not only in the ethical theory of positive and conventional rights the foremost provider of rights and welfare, but the state is also the main provider of rights as understood by most people and in most circumstances. In other words, negative duties are an obligation for everybody, whereas positive obligations are the duty of some particular group or institution, usually the state.
The public sector or the state is the government with all its ministries, departments, services, central/provincial/local administrations, parastatal businesses and other institutions. The public sector is composed of two core elements; at the political level there are the political institutions where policies are formulated and the (major) decisions are made, and at the administrative level there is the public sector administration, which is in charge of implementing these policies and decisions. This implementing level is also called the civil service or state administration or bureaucracy. The distinction between politics and administration is not entirely clear, however, because the administration also have quite some discretionary powers.
Public sector activities range from delivering social security, administering urban planning and organising national defence to the provision of health, schools and roads. In principle, there is no limit to what the state can do. There is, however, much debate on how much the state should intervene, like in the economic sectors and in the private life of their citizens. This is a political question, and the debate about the role and the size of the state and the public sector (as opposed to the private sector) is probably the single most important dividing line in political philosophy, with the socialists preferring greater state involvement, libertarians favouring only minimal state involvement (security and property protection), whereas conservatives and liberals are favouring state involvement in some aspects of the society but not others.
Ethics is rarely a matter of concern in the ideology debate on the role of the state, but ethics is a natural concern in the discussion on the actual role of the politicians and the state administration. No matter how big and what role the state is playing (and supposed to be playing), both politicians and civil servants have discretionary powers; they make decisions that affects a lot of people. Therefore, these decisions ought to be based on some form of ethics. For instance, the public (a nation’s citizens) will normally expect the country’s politicians and public servants to serve in the public interest, and to serve in a rational and efficient way. They will not want them to pursue narrow private, personal, or group interests.
Professional, public sector ethics of civil servants and politicians are somewhat different from the personal ethics of individuals. In addition to the personal ethical values and principles of individuals (like respect for others, honesty, equality, fairness, etc.), the professional public servant faces another context and an additional set of values and principles. Although the public sector is a labyrinth of agencies with different tasks, reporting lines, levels of responsibility and ethical cultures, we are looking for these “universal” or basic principles of public service.
There are also some differences between public sector ethics and private sector (business) ethics. The aim of the private corporation or business is, in general, to make money, whereas the public sector is meant to perform functions for the society as a whole, according to general and political priorities. For instance, a private company can choose to donate some of its profits to charity, but a public agency may be prohibited from such largesse with public funds (without a specific mandate to do so). The context is different, and the principles of operation between the public and business sectors differ.
According to Kinchin (2007), the ethics of public service is (should be) based on five basic virtues; fairness, transparency, responsibility, efficiency and no conflict of interest. There are, however, other principles in operation, and public servants face several dilemmas, for instance when the bureaucrats’ private ethics collide with his professional public work ethics or organisational cultures.