Probity In Public Life

Probity in public life are the standards that society expects those elected or appointed to public office to observe and maintain in the conduct of the public affairs to which they have been entrusted. These standards safeguard the nation from corruption by politicians and public officials who have been given almost unrestricted access to public resources together with the power to take decisions that impact on the lives of everyone.

Unfortunately in India, Probity in public life is poor state since discipline is disappearing fast from public life and without discipline, as the Scandinavian sociologist, Gunnyar Myrdal, has pointed out, no real progress is possible.

While in the West a man who rises to positions of higher authority develops greater respect for laws, the opposite is true in our country. Here, the mark of a person holding high position is the ease with which he can ignore the laws and regulations. For example, violation of rules and regulations by MPs and MLAs, usually go unchecked.

The absence of probity in public life is manifested in corruption which is a worldwide phenomenon. But its impact is strongest and most pervasive in developing countries like India. As we have seen during UPA-II regime, how multiple corruption scandals lead to high cost of living due to inflation and lowering down investors’ confidence in market.

We need to develop an ethical culture which enhances people confidence in political setup. For that, ensuring probity of action should be the part of every public official’s duty, with the adoption of processes, practices and behaviour that enhance and promote public service values and interests. For example, civil servants blowing the whistle when they encounter with corrupt activities at inter and intra organizational level.

In addition, honest public officials need to be encouraged and their contributions need to be recognised. The best way to give such encouragement and recognition is to call to account the dishonest public servants and reward honest ones.

There needs to be a national crusade dedicated to the maintenance of a culture of decency and integrity in public life. Without that even a strong democracy runs the risk of degenerating into a failed state because its democratic foundations will get eroded, the rule of law compromised and offices of state and institutions undermined to the extent where they lose their legitimacy. Integrity legislation can be the solution to tackle the poor state of probity in public life, as Transparency International and the Commonwealth Secretariat have observed in their joint study,

“Integrity and probity in public life demand that those elected or appointed to public office are themselves imbued with a sense of responsibility to the society that puts them there; that the decisions they take should always be solely in terms of the public interest and not to gain benefits for themselves, family, friends or associates; that they act with honesty and integrity by not allowing their private interests to conflict with their public responsibilities; and that the behaviour must always be able to stand up to the closest public scrutiny.”