Original Research

Professional and Ethical Conduct in the Public Sector

Thozamile Richard Mle
Africa’s Public Service Delivery & Performance Review | Vol 1, No 1 | a22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/apsdpr.v1i1.22 | © 2012 Thozamile Richard Mle | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 November 2016 | Published: 01 June 2012

About the author(s)

Thozamile Richard Mle, University of Fort Hare, South Africa

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One of the basic values and principles governing public administration enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Chapter 10) is that “a high standard of professional ethics must be promoted and maintained. Ethics is a process by which we clarify right and wrong and act on what we take to be right, that is, a set or system of moral principles that are generally accepted. Ethics simply means  what is right and wrong, what is acceptable or unacceptable and is intertwined with the value system of people. Ethics can also be seen as being relative, not absolute, as ethical behaviour is in the eyes of the beholder. Be that as it may, however, ethical conduct and behaviour normally refer to conforming with generally accepted social norms. Relative to ethics is professionalism, which entails a high standard of work and adherence to certain standards and principles pertaining to specific work to be done. Professionalism embodies skills, competence, efficiency and effectiveness. Public institutions exist for the public good and employ public servants to render services to ensure a better life for all. The public sector is characterised by unprofessional and unethical conduct. The article unearths these and suggests strategies/mechanisms to address this ‘ill’. Can an unethical,  unprofessional public servant be trusted to deliver services? Can, for example, a debt-trapped public servant who survives on borrowing money from micro-lenders, who cannot manage personal finances, be trusted to efficiently manage public funds and thus enhance service delivery? Can an incompetent, corrupt, disloyal, unaccountable, shoddy public servant who flouts the principles of Batho Pele and the code of conduct be entrusted with the  responsibilities of ensuring a better life for all? The answers to these questions constitute the core of this article.


Public Sector; Public Servant; Ethics; Professional Conduct; South Africa


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