Ethics and Accountability in Public Service

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Ethics, Integrity and Accountability in Public Sector: Practice and Lessons Learned in Latvia Aleksejs Loskutovs, Director Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau Latvia 28 September 2006 (10 min.) The public sector in Latvia has undergone many important changes over the past decade. In mid 1990s Latvian government started a major public administration reform. This reform was one of the cornerstones on Latvia’s way to the European Union, which we joined in May 2004. Latvia made a great effort to develop legal framework that regulates the public sector, as well as relations between the public sector and the citizens. Today legislation in Latvia and internal regulations of different public institutions in various ways cover the principles of ethics, integrity and accountably. Formally, the reform created a basis for a modern public sector, based on general European and international standards. The competence of public institutions is clearly limited in the law, each institution has to have objectives and is judged by its results, there are mechanisms to inform the public and involve the citizens. The administration and the politics are separated. Civil servants have to be politically neutral. According to our public administration reform concept developed in 1995, public servants also have to respect the principle of ethics – it is defined in this concept as public interest standing beyond any personal interest. Many positive initiatives have been developed to ensure the accountability of the public sector. The parliament has an important role to control the work of the government and through it – the public sector as a whole. In fact, the parliament in Latvia is not using these powers enough. Public institutions have to develop work plans and through public consultative bodies the public and professionals can participate in the decision of public institutions. Annual reports have become obligatory. Latvia is also one of the rare countries in the world were the meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers are open to the public. It is all a big change if we think that not so long ago, before the break-up of the Soviet Union such words as “public institutions”, “state”, “public interest” had a completely different meaning. Public administration and the political decision-making were closely linked. Public officials exercised wide discretion and made decisions in secrecy. Civil servants, party leaders, doctors could take gifts and help their friends and relatives – it was accepted as common practice. Therefore, the reform of public institutions has a much bigger challenge to face. Changing the formal structures and rules was not enough. The mentality and tradition needed to change too. The laws need to be understood and applied in practice. Public servants need proper guidance and education to understand what behaviour is actually expected from them. Finally, there should be sanctions and efficient control mechanisms to ensure that those who do not respect the law are punished. As it was also pointed out in the study on the national integrity system in Latvia carried out in 2003 by Transparency International Latvia, the development of legislation is way ahead of the capacity of the public service to implement these norms and control the implementation. Given these circumstances, it was decided to address the concerns of ethics and integrity in the public service in Latvia through prevention of corruption and conflict of interest. The National Strategy and Programme for Corruption Prevention and Combating in 2004-2008 were adopted

by the Latvian government in 2004. These two documents form the national anti-corruption policy of Latvia. This policy has a comprehensive approach to the fight against corruption based on three pillars: prevention of corruption, investigation and education of the public. One of the aims of the programme is to ensure ethical behaviour of public officials and seek that they perform their duties in...
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