Crises, man-made or otherwise, have marked this first decade of the 21st century. A decade which started on an upbeat note with the landmark Declaration of the Millennium Assembly (September 2000), will soon approach its end amidst the uneasy awareness that new, more daunting challenges may soon overshadow the problems which the Millennium Assembly and its Development Goals had cogently tried to address. From wars in Western Asia, through persisting absolute poverty and steeply rising prices, to planetary perils entailed in climate change, rapidly mounting crises have exposed for all to see a startling capacity-deficit in governance and governments both to contain the extent and to provide solutions to problem situations, which take on global dimensions and are spinning out of control.
This chapter tries to explore one dimension of this deficit: integrity and professionalism as critical components of what we call good governance. Integrity and professionalism conditioned the success of reforms from the days of French Revolution to decolonisation and the development programmes of the mid-twentieth century. Their rather steep decline from the nineteen eighties and nineties represents a major facet of the erosion of public service, which is a salient feature of our current global predicament and a foremost theme of this study. To arrest and reverse this erosion, tinkering with the problems with spin and pious pronouncements but few coherent measures, will simply not avail. The time has come to revisit and reconsider a public service model, as well as a system of government which “hollowed out” the State and deconstructed the concept of public or“general interest”, thus undermining the role of public service professionals as vectors of official thought and custodians of the common good.
Equating public sector with private sector management, the new model de-emphasised not only the idiosyncracies but also the requirements of rule of law and due process, ethics and spirituality, that are the very core of public service professionalism. The entrepreneurial manager was lionised and “results over process” presented as the core of the new model. It has done little to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Venality and corruption of public life, however, became a way of life in many a public service. They have grown pari passu with an attitude of mind which, in spite of much lip service to “social responsibility”, poses personal gratification over the common good, fosters what has been called “a bottom line mentality” and subordinates all values to utility considerations. Such instrumental reasoning and opportunism explain the egregious actions in many a public agency, national and international, in recent years. They also serve to explain the “at will employment practices” and overall approach to human resources management, whose net effect thus far has been to undermine commitment to professionalism and service of the common good.
Connected to this trend is devaluation of knowledge and stress on “how to skills”, viewing the same in light of short-term considerations. Such instrumental reasoning ignores the important need for self-actualisation and related long-term commitment to public service. It has gone hand-in-hand with the depreciation of personal responsibility as the core of professional ethics. This chapter makes a distinction between two systems of ethics: the ethics of obedience and the ethics of responsibility, which arguably lie at the core of contemporary systems of ethics, public or private. This and spirituality, which should not be considered as “religion in disguise”, are considered as conditions sine qua non of a public service reform and professional revival.