Public Protector addresses ethics seminar in Parliament
Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Wednesday addressed an ethics seminar in Parliament, proposing the development of a transversal ethics code to apply to the entire public sector.
Currently, the Public Protector noted, the country has different codes of ethics or conduct that apply to different quarters within the public sector, including the executive, Members of Parliament and public servants.
She explained that a transversal code was needed to provide both public officials and the public at large with a common frame of reference regarding principles and standards to be applied in the execution of public duties.
Presenting on the role of her office in relation to ethical misconduct in public institutions, the Public Protector said such a code would also assist public officials to develop an appreciation of ethics issues involved in effective and efficient public service.
“It will give us a common frame of reference, where everyone will know where to draw the line. Currently people tend to find out that they have crossed the line when told by an oversight body such as my office,” she said.
The Public Protector told the seminar that for ethical misconduct to be addressed, impunity needed to be ended, adding that whistle-blower protection also needed to be strengthened.
She called for synergies on the work of bodies operating within the integrity sector, including her office, the Special Investigating Unit and the Auditor General, among others, to be strengthened. This, the Public Protector explained, would help avoid duplication of work and overlaps while saving resources.
The Public Protector further called on the integrity sector itself to be the change it wanted to see in the public sector and leading by example on issues of ethical conduct.
Co-Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests, Prof. Ben Turok, which hosted the seminar, agreed that there was an urgent need for a transversal ethics code.
The Public Protector also emphasised the issue of public trust and confidence in the public administration, quoting her colleague and European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandorous.
“Misconduct on the part of those that have been entrusted with guarding the public interest and resources has implications for public institutions, in terms of trust and confidence. Nothing erodes trust faster than unethical conduct, particularly when such conduct could be seen as the result not only of individual acts but also of systemic failure and as evidence of weak governance.
“In consequence, the importance of articulating the ethical principles and the values that define and underpin a well constituted, modern public service cannot be overstated.”
Meanwhile, the Public Protector used the opportunity to apologise unconditionally to the entire Parliament for showing her frustrations when dealing with some of the issues that were raised with her by some members of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development at a recent meeting.
“While I do not regret what I said, I do regret how I said some of the things. In retrospect, that is not the way an Ombudsman should conduct himself or herself. I should have requested a proper parliamentary debate on matters in which I had a different view,” she said.
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