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Ethical conduct in the Public Service

5 January 2017 12:25 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


According to the dictionary meaning ‘Ethic’ is the study of what is right and what is wrong in human behaviour. In this context I would like to regard the meaning of the term work ethic in relation to public servants, in the simplest term to mean attitude to work.


As human beings we do certain things in the proper way in keeping with the law of the country, rules and regulations, precedence social practices and cultural norms cherished and valued by the people with a view of satisfying the needs and wants of the General Public. Very often we fail to do things in the correct and proper way. My attempt in this piece of writing is to identify the instances when we go wrong in our efforts to do things as public servants in the proper way in keeping with the accepted procedures, rules and regulations in a manner to satisfy the needs and wants of the masses who are our masters. Direct and indirect taxes paid by them are used to pay ours salaries.  


Attitude to work
Attitude to work on the part of an individual, organization or a society or even a country or a region is the result of the impact and influences of a number of variations, environmental and socio-cultural influences, ethnic prejudices and such other. This means that work ethics differ from country to country and even in respect of much smaller units of organizations and the society. Hence, work ethics in our country cannot be identified in Toto with those in other countries except in instances in which we experience similar economies and environments in general.  


Cultural influence and value systems
Work ethics in any country or society is largely influenced by its culture. Culture has been defined a collective programming of the mind which distinguishes members of one group of a society from another. Culture is reflected in the meaning people attach to various aspects of life. Work ethics in any given society has a direct relationship to its value systems. Values are sets of inter-related ideas, concepts and principles which individuals, groups and societies attach strong sentiments. Every society has a set of values and it is this which differentiates people from one another. Values exist in regard to all realms of life and in any given society are in a sense a reflection of shared values. While integrated value systems provide a sense of meaning and purpose of existence and also a sense of stability and identity. It also results in strong attitudes and prejudices and thus what is a norm in one society becomes the aberration in another.   


Social prejudices, economic imperatives and structural forces
 Ethics in any society is also influenced by Social prejudices economic imperatives and structural forces of a particular organization. If one does not comprehend or does not care to comprehend the nature in a particular society he/she would fail to understand problems of that society.   


Sri Lankan experience in work ethics
Sri Lankans have been subjected to two pervasive influences, viz. the Indian civilization and the Western colonization. The Indian cultural ethos as expressed n the Indian philosophies and religions have had deep impressions on the way of thinking of the people in Sri Lanka. This explains the similarities in behavioural pattern among the people in the sub continent including Sri Lanka Although we hail for a glorious past we have been weakened by centuries of colonial rule. Although we feel proud of our ancient times of cultural and social advancement we must admit the fact that we frankly acknowledged the superiority of the Western civilization and look to it for guidance.   
It is pertinent to salient traits in Si Lankan national character to understand the Sri Lankan attitude to everything including work ethic  


Absence  of commitment and absence of total involvement 
There is a marked commitment and absence of total involvement that enables one to carry a task from the start to the end through trials and tribulations. It expresses itself at many levels. At the individual level promises are made but not kept or partly kept. A great amount of initial enthusiasm amounts to not more than the fizz of the soda bottle, At the collective level despite the loud proclamations of faith in objectives there are no sustained efforts   

In spite of various plans and programmes launched to fulfil the needs and wants of the people many of them suffer by not being able to achieve their ends.. Plans and projects are often not completed. In some areas farmers do not receive water in time for cultivation and they find it difficult to sell the yields at reasonable prices as arrangements for purchasing the crops and storing them are not made allowing the profiteers to have their own way. Ceremonies are held to open construction works, building roads and at later stages they remain undone . Sometimes bridges constructed halfway are washed away during the floods, Highway rules and regulations regarding hotels and eating houses garbage disposal, sanitation,, environment protection, gambling illicit distilling and a host of other measures are implemented off and on and sometimes limited to the opening ceremony like the fizz of a soda bottle and the culprits are free to have their own way leaving the masses to suffer.

Sometimes projects inaugurated by one party remain undone not being followed up due to differences of opinion. This happens due to substantial effort not having been made at the individual level and the group level.   


Constraints in the growth of personal autonomy
Colonial rule established an attitude of dependence which was reinforced by family environment is a constraint in the growth of personal autonomy. There is a pervasive dependence on the government for everything which has eroded self reliance. Along with dependence there is also deep distrust of authority hardly by a healthy and conducive climate for peoples’ participation. Diddling government funds and robbing or vandalizing government equipment is considered the done thing.   


Failure in expressing intense feeling
South Asians including Sri Lankans have difficulties in expressing, especially in aggression and anxiety. Democratic principle of toleration and compromise is very often rejected. There is no pattering and shaping of aggression as in the West.  When aggression is aroused in our part of the world it may burst out in a chaotic way as in 1971, 1983 and 1988.   

Workers are compelled to win their rights through threats, strikes, protest campaigns etc. because their masters or employers often cannot be convinced of the grievances through negotiations.  


Efficacy and power of words
We exhibited a remarkable faith in the efficacy and power of words. Every day we read in our newspapers of men with high sounding words proclaiming to the world of anything and everything and in the final analysis nothing. 

They do not often bother about the implementation of what is proclaimed in words for much what is said is just not implementable.Words but not deeds. Ours is a nation of slogan shouters and bearers of banners with slogans


Failure to believe in the value of time
In our institutes of public service training and private sector training institutions seminars are conducted on the value of time management and the need to work without wasting time a single hour. However, all such seminars, lectures etc. fall on deaf ears of most of us. Often we wait for “Good hours” avoiding “Bad Hours”based on the horoscope readings. Time flies and we cannot catch and preserve time. Such attitudes deprive us of the benefit that can be achieved through time management.  


Attitudes of a public servant - to be a good Samaritan 
Everyone must feel and know that if he/she works hard he/she can go ahead. In any event he/she should maintain his/he self respect. Self respect can be earned by being virtuous – by making the beneficiaries or the General Public – the rate payers contended by providing the services to the best of his/her ability. He/she should be a Good Samaritan. One cannot be a Good Samaritan by showing his/her power and authority-by virtue of holding a high position – occupying spacious and well equipped office rooms and using luxury cars. 

It is a pity that such high rank officers enjoy all that they wish while their counter – parts in lower ranks are compelled to share tables in the corridors. In public service training institutions like SLIDA trainees are made to live with ordinary families during a certain period and gain experience (village immersion programme) They are thus provided with opportunities to change their attitudes towards the General Public.  

Trainees come to know the needs and wants of the people when once they occupy substantial positions they get inclined to serve the masses well. Thus if you want a healthy work ethic we have to create the conditions which would contribute to it – respect for values and value systems enshrinement of the merit principle in recruitment and promotion, prospects of material achievement and above all self respect.     

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