Code of Ethics for Government Officials

Written by audra bianca
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Code of Ethics for Government Officials
Government officials must serve the public trust. (Capitol Building image by dwight9592 from Fotolia.com)

A government code of ethics expresses in plain terms what an official must do to perform the job honestly and to shun unethical or immoral behaviour. A good code of ethics provides examples of positive principles to uphold and negative behaviours and actions to avoid. Such codes help officials do their jobs well and give members of the public assurance that their interests are paramount.

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Allegiance

In public service, the principle of allegiance requires officials to place their own interests secondary to their duty to serve the government, and by extension, the people. On the federal level, the code of government ethics calls for loyalty to "the highest moral principles" and to the country itself, and also calls on official adherents to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the law.

Honesty

Ethical government officials are asked to do a full day's work in exchange for a full day's pay. The principle of honesty also includes reporting unethical activities when the official sees other public employees committing them. An extreme example of this ethical fulfilment occurs when an official must be a whistle-blower to expose wrongdoing in his own branch of government.

Financial Conflicts of Interest

Government employees must avoid financial conflicts of interest. Examples include accepting gifts or favours from individuals or groups, issuing contracts to business partners, using confidential information for outside business activities, and using protected agency knowledge to make a profit after leaving government service. A government ethics code may also require its officials to disclose financial interests in real property, business associations and outside income.

Nepotism

Ethical officials should also avoid personal conflicts of interest arising from nepotism. Officials also must not accept outside favours for themselves or their family members, in order to avoid the appearance of favouritism or the suggestion that their work is being unduly influenced by personal considerations.

Avoiding Discrimination

The opposite of preferential treatment involves discriminating against individuals or groups. A public official should not treat any person differently because of colour, race, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, language, creed, marital status or family obligations. Discrimination also should not occur in any professional context, such as in contracting, hiring, committee work, investigations or decision-making activities.

Violations

Government agencies have special commissions or committees with formal procedures for handling alleged violations of their code of ethics. Usually, government officials enjoy protections if they are investigated by an ethics commission, such as the right to prepare for a hearing, the right to representation, and the right to appeal a ruling.

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