Ethical Justification on the Public Administration

The justification of a public sector institution can provide the basis for the ethics of its administrators. This can help indicate what individuals should refrain from doing. Thus, if the justification of a public sector institution is that it serves some public value, this rules out actions that enrich either the individual or the institution at the expense of achieving that value for the wider community. For example, if the value to be served is to build roads to assist the free movement of citizens and their goods, the use of that power to build roads and overpasses to suit the individual business interests of politicians is ruled out.

However, the most important role of ethics is more constructive, telling us how we should live our lives or, in the case of public sector ethics, how we should act within our administrative roles. For example, the core of medical ethics is to be found in professional goals like the promotion of health, the relief of suffering, and the curing of disease rather than the punishable transgressions which reflect the more serious deviations from those goals. Likewise, the justification of an institution not only provides a point for the institution but also for activity within it and it can suggest the goals members should set themselves and how they should exercise the powers they have by virtue of that membership. It sets out the positive achievements by which an administrator should be judged by her peers and should judge herself.

In the example given above it is to build roads to assist the free movement of citizens and their goods by discovering where that movement is most hampered and where the most assistance can be provided by the least expenditure of public money.

Ethics such as these can, in turn, support laws that are based around publicly acknowledged values.

The provision of a justification for an institution provides a standard for criticism of the performance and design of institutions. It constantly raises the question of what structure, what design, what kinds of relationships between members and employees of an organisation are likely to aid the institution achieving the values that justify having a public sector agency. (It also raises the negative question of how we can prevent some of the aberrations that prevent it achieving those values. However, as with law and ethics, the primary emphasis is on what they can positively achieve.)

Thus we should be asking what sort of institutional structure is more likely to allow public sector agencies fulfill the values for which they were established. For example, we should ask what structure allows universities to produce world class teaching and research and what structure allows the courts to better resolve disputes that come to it? Assume for the moment that the justification of public sector agencies is to serve some stated community value such as educating school children, improving the health of the community or increasing our exports. Such a justification should provide a reason for blocking off avenues by which monies provided for those purposes was expended for other ends and removing incentives for them to do so. At the same time, those institutions would be prevented from doing so at the expense of other values such as human rights.