In our continuous efforts to build a capable and ethical Public Service, we must address the vital role of ethics and anti-corruption functions within government departments. To this end, the Institutionalization of the Ethics Officer (EO) Function has emerged as a crucial step forward developed by the Chief Directorate Public Administration Ethics, Integrity, and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit (PAEID-TAU) at the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).
The Unit has made some progress in the development of the Directive on the Institutionalization of the Ethics Officer Function.
Government departments have long been tasked with anti-corruption and ethics functions. However, these responsibilities have often been treated as add-on allocations to employees who already have full-time roles within their departments. This approach has resulted in limited attention being given to the ethics function. Recognising this constraint, the purpose of the directive is to guide the organizational and staffing models of the ethics function, clarify the roles and responsibilities of Ethics Officers, and establish reporting arrangements.
The Directive focuses on key aspects of institutionalising the EO function within departments and defines the roles and responsibilities of Ethics Officers, providing a sample job description. This ensures clarity and consistency in their functions. Taking into consideration the size and risk profile of each department, the directive guides how to structure the ethics function and allocate appropriate staffing resources. Clear reporting mechanisms are established to ensure that unethical behaviour and allegations of corruption are promptly reported to the Head of the department.
The directive recognizes that some departments may not be immediately ready to appoint Ethics Officers. In such cases, the option of designation is available, particularly for smaller departments with lower risks. Factors such as the risk profile, Ethics Management Strategy, and the size of the department are considered when determining the most suitable approach.
Ethics Officers play a crucial role in fostering a proactive and preventive ethics culture within departments. This includes conducting risk assessments, developing ethics strategies, raising awareness, providing advisory services, and promoting an ethical work environment. Additionally, ethics officers are responsible for compliance functions such as processing applications, managing financial disclosures, and monitoring the implementation of ethics prescripts. Reporting unethical behaviour and allegations of corruption to the Head of the department is also an essential aspect of their role.
As we move forward with the Institutionalization of the EO Function, we value the collaboration of and inputs of all departments. The feedback received will be integrated into the draft Directive, and it will subsequently be published for public comment. The DPSA remain committed to conducting further consultations with all relevant stakeholders, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach to strengthening ethics in the Public Service.
The Institutionalization of the Ethics Officer Function marks a significant step towards building a capable and ethical Public Service. By providing clear guidelines, defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing reporting mechanisms, The DPSA aim to create a framework that promotes integrity, transparency, and accountability within government departments. Let us work together in growing South Africa, fostering a Public Service that upholds the highest ethical standards, serves the best interests of the nation and leaves no one behind.
Dr Salomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak is the Chief Director of the Public Administration Ethics, Integrity, and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit at the DPSA