Ethics and capability

5th April 2019 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Ethics and capability

It is interesting to note that the National School of Government’s mandatory and compulsory programmes – launched last month as part of renewed efforts to improve the performance of South Africa’s public sector – include a compulsory programme titled Ethics in the Public Service.

No doubt, the course will traverse the basic code of conduct expected of the country’s one-million public servants and will offer practical guidelines for managing the ethical dilemmas that are sure to arise over the course of their careers. It may not even be a bad idea, however, for course graduates to be issued with a copy of the ‘code of governance pledge’ drafted by former Public Service Commission head Professor Stan Sangweni.

The code may have been written well before the governance- destroying State capture era, but it remains as relevant as ever. It reads as follows:

Living up to such a pledge, however, requires more than willpower. As Professor Lynn Paine, of Harvard Business School, highlighted during a 2016 lecture in Johannesburg on ethics and governance, there is a critical relationship between a person’s level of competence and the person’s ability to act ethically.

In other words, absent the requisite skills, even an ethical employee can run into difficulty. Absent values and ethics, though, a skilled employee can take us down an exceedingly destructive path, be it at a Home Affairs office, at Eskom’s Megawatt Park head office, or, indeed, even in the Union Buildings!