10 May 2012
Chicago has an Ethics Reform Task Force exploring how principles underpinning that city’s administration could be restructured to moderate the series of integrity breaches which afflict the jurisdiction. The Task Force has been “picking the eyes” out of the expansive range of ethics policies and practices from across the US.
Five years ago the State Services Commissioner directed a similar exercise to determine the nature of the integrity regime that he should set across the State Services. This included exploring the approach taken in numerous jurisdictions and assessing whether processes could migrate effectively to New Zealand. It was in May 2007, following wide consultation, that the Commissioner decided to adopt a homegrown structure which was published the following month, and came into force in December 2007.
One of the submissions to the Task Force made earlier this year was from the Executive Director of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. There is orthodoxy in paper’s analysis of the expectations most citizens have of their officials. The suggested framework for regulating those expectations is traditional. It is a good summary that all who work within such frameworks, are likely to benefit from reading.
“The purpose of government ethics laws lies in promoting both the reality and the perception of integrity in government by preventing unethical conduct (conflicts of interest violations) before they occur.
“… government ethics laws
• Promote both the reality and the perception of integrity in government;
• Focus on prevention, not punishment;
• Are not intended to (and will not) catch crooks, which is the province of penal laws, law enforcement agencies (including inspectors general), and prosecutors;
• Recognize the inherent honesty of public officials, whom these laws seek to guide;
• Do not regulate morality (most are really conflicts of interest laws not ethics laws); and
• Require that the public have a stake in the ethics system….”
The paper concludes with with the observation that…
“…Virtually alone among laws enacted by government, an ethics law regulates the very persons who enact it. Not surprisingly, therefore, the road to ethics reform more often than not proves long, rocky, and arduous, fraught with obstacles along the way. Yet success requires only good faith and hard work – and a clear understanding of the purpose, principles, and structure of an effective ethics law…”