Codes of ethics are a necessary element of good governance. Municipal codes of ethics not only provide ethical guidelines for municipal officials and employees, they are critical in restoring public trust in government. Such codes ought to affirm transparent conduct and government practices, by mandating that elected officials and executive-level personnel file financial disclosure forms disclosing assets and liabilities in excess of a certain value threshold.
Similarly, codes of ethics for NGOs, professional associations and the media, must also lay down the principles of expected behaviour from the other pillars of society. Such codes can act as one of the most effective tools for bringing about positive changes within civil society organizations and the constituencies they serve. Codes of ethics for these organizations must be developed and applied through active participation of all concerned stakeholders.
Purpose of municipal Code of Ethics
To establish transparent frameworks for government officials with respect to voting and other decision-making processes.
To ensure transparency and ethical conduct by government employees and officials.
To restore or foster public trust and citizen confidence in the administration of government.
To demonstrate a formal and codified commitment to ethical behaviour by government officials.
Purpose of code of ethics for civil society
To provide a framework for self-governance of the civil society organizations and institutions through a set of statements of principles and values that inform and improve decision-making.
Linkage to transparency
All Codes of Ethics, whether for municipal officials, civil society organizations, the media or professional associations, must include certain basic principles of professional conduct. These could comprise (but need not be restricted to) the following
Impartiality, objectivity, discrimination
Due diligence/duty of care
Fidelity to professional responsibilities
Avoiding potential or apparent conflict of interest
Legality (respect for the rule of law)
Integrity and honesty
Transparency and openness;
Responsibility, i.e., maintaining one’s reputation and responsibility for faults.
There is no single method for constructing an ethics infrastructure in public service. Rather, a combination of incentives and sanctions is needed to encourage professional standards of conduct. This is also prudent counsel to those who are taking on the responsibility of drafting, adopting, and implementing codes of ethics.
Codes of Ethics, when combined with other tools such as Conflict of Interest Laws (see 2.15) and Disclosure Laws (see 2.16), promote openness and transparency by establishing processes that support the application of the latter.
How It Works – Municipal Code of Ethics
Creation. The process of producing a code of ethics must itself be an exercise in ethics . It must intentionally involve all members of the social group that it will include and represent. This necessitates a system or process of setting out "from top to bottom", from the sundry to the specific, and constitutes progressive agreements in such a way that the final result is recognised as representative of all the moral and ethical character of the group. Governments, for instance, can begin by conducting surveys to determine the core values and concerns of the community and government employees, and the most pressing problems.
Determining jurisdiction. This is critical for municipal bodies. What governmental entity or independent agency will have authority to interpret and enforce the code? Municipalities need to designate individuals responsible for establishing enforcement guidelines and advisory procedures, and subsequently, including named entity within the code of ethics.
Disseminating the Code of Ethics. Municipal employees and officials must understand the rules, obligations and expectations of standards to which they must abide. An important consideration at this stage is determining how the code of ethics will be produced and made readily available to the public. Generally, printing brochures or creating "plain language" informational guides has been a useful tool. The codes also need to be made available via the Internet (See also 2.22 - Ethics Training.)
Co-ordinating inter-government support. Here, the relevant municipal stakeholders need to strategise enforcement, communication and administrative support. The various activities involved might entail, for instance, delegating responsibility for the collection and review of financial disclosure statements; maintenance of lobbyist registration and reporting requirements, post employment forms and distribution of the printed Code of Ethics.
Identifying gaps and loopholes. Generally, codes of ethics are works in progress. Weaknesses and loopholes in such codes emerge during the process of interpretation and application. There must be a process for continual review of the codes to determine what provisions, for example, need to be clarified, rewritten or eliminated.
Establishing a library of decisions and opinions. The transparent element of a code of ethics is best effectuated through cogent opinions and decisions interpreting the various laws and provisions. Understanding the application of the code is an important element for transparent municipal governance. Therefore, under this component, local governments should consider an on-line library of opinions so that employees, officials and the public can view who is requesting opinions and access the nature of those requests.
How It Works – Code of Ethics for various professional and civil society organizations
The components of an ethics infrastructure for professional and civil society organizations can be categorised into three functions: guidance, management, and control.
Political Commitment: Without sustained commitment and support from the political leadership of the organization or institution to ethical standards of conduct, most efforts will be in vain. The leadership of the association needs to demonstrate by its actions a sustained commitment to enforcing the code. In the politics of association management, it’s a political commitment.
Workable Codes of Conduct: These codes define in varying degrees of detail the expected standards of behaviour in the workplace. These will be recognized as formally adopted statements of applied ethics or what is expected in practice from those individuals who operate within an organization that has formally declared its operating values and principles. Most codes of conduct describe, in preamble-like statements, the principles and values their organization aspires to. Many of these, while primarily espousing principles and values, also feature the prohibition of specific behaviours or actions on the part of those covered by the code. The ICMA Code of Ethics (see Boxes 46- ICMA Code of Ethics - Central to the City Management Profession, 50-The Code of Ethics for City Managers' Association, Gujarat (CMAG)) fits this hybrid model.
Professional Socialisation Mechanisms: These are the ways organization members learn about and take on the norms and standards of conduct that are expected of them. Training, role models, and recognition of exemplary service that highlights accepted behaviour are some of the socialising tools available to the organization.
Creation of an ethics coordinating body: In the case of a local government, this might be a specially created working group representing elected leadership, organization employees, and the public with oversight responsibilities on issues of ethics within the organization and its working environment.
Supportive public service conditions: This refers to the provision of acceptable working conditions within public service employment that, when absent, can often tempt employees to undertake unethical actions. For example, low pay, discrimination in the workplace, promotions based on personal connections rather than merit – these practices and many others can foster unethical behaviour on the part of employees.
An effective legal framework that defines the outside boundaries of acceptable conduct and penalties for stepping over them.
Efficient accountability mechanisms for tracking and reporting ethics-related activities.
An active civil society with rigorous expectations about the norms and standards of public service.
Professional codes of ethics are only as effective as the actions that result from those who live by them. The results can be measured in two ways. First, have they had a positive effect on the overall credibility and performance of the profession and its membership association? This will depend in large measure on the association’s ability and commitment to manage the implementation and enforcement of the code.
The second measure of effectiveness is more difficult to either qualify or quantify. It’s not just the unblemished track record of the professionals who comply with the code, although this is important. It is also the leadership they bring to their organizations and communities to establish the ethics infrastructure and integrity systems. Professional city managers and finance officers, for example, are valuable assets in providing guidance within their own organizations, and their leadership roles are enhanced when backed by their professions’ stand on ethics as defined in a formal code (See Box 46).
At the very heart of managing a code are two challenges: one proactive, the other reactive. Managing a code of ethics proactively is about constant learning and yearning – helping members to live within the values and principles of such codes more effectively through constant dialogue and learning opportunities (See also 2.22 - Ethics Training) and helping them yearn to set the standard for exemplary performance within their respective work places. At times, the profession will need to react to member indiscretions to assure that the code is complied with in a fair and judicious manner.
ICMA Code of Ethics - Central to the City Management Profession,
Ethics in South Africa - Disseminating the Code of Conduct and evaluating its impact,
Queensland's Public Sector Ethics Act,
Code of Conduct for NGOs in Ethiopia
The Code of Ethics for City Managers' Association, Gujarat (CMAG)
Further information and contacts
UN-HABITAT (2002). Developing and Managing Professional Codes of Ethics: Resource Guide for Professional Associations Contributing to Good Local Governance. UN-HABITAT, Nairobi
UN-HABITAT, P.O. Box 30030, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya.
International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics, History, Guidelines, and Rules of Procedure
ICMA, 777 North Capitol Street, NE, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20002, USA.
The Government of South Africa and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime - Regional Office for Southern Africa - UNODC/ROSA (2003) Country Corruption Assessment Report South Africa.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 10th floor, Church Square House, 5 Spin Street, Cape Town 8001, South Africa
Tel: +27-21-465-8885; Fax: +27-21-465-8887;
Pope, Jeremy (2000) Transparency International Sourcebook (Chapter 20)
Transparency International (TI), Otto-Suhr-Allee 97-99, 10585 Berlin, Germany
Tel.: +49-30-343-8200; Fax: +49-30-34703912
Queensland Government, Australia. Website: www.qsl.gov.au
Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA)
Training Centre, P.O. Box 5674, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The City Managers Association of Gujarat,
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation West Zone Office,
Usmanpura crossroad, Ahmedabad 380013, India
Tel: +91-79-7561184/ 7561185; Fax: +91-79-7551595