Many nations look to the Canadian public service as a model of probity, prudence, and excellence. Today, good practice is overshadowed by allegations of corruption, unethical leadership, and abuse of power in all spheres of public service. While figures making the news are mostly political, public servants bear the brunt of criticism and the burden of strengthened accountability measures.
More transparency is viewed as the answer. Opening up government to public scrutiny taps the capacity of public institutions to promote good governance and integrity and to constrain corruption and wrongdoing. Do recent incidents point to deeper problems embedded within institutions? What institutional changes are warranted to foster more effective public management? What can be learned from international experience about the impact of greater transparency?
The 2013 IPAC National Conference featured a forum on public sector transparency and accountability. The panel commented on what is needed to fight corruption on the Canadian and global scene:
• Huguette Labelle (Chair: Transparency International): – a whole-of-society approach with lead roles for local government and business, oversight of codes of conduct, access-to-information and whistleblower legislation, and e-government to counter a cycle of impunity and violence;
• Mario Dion (Integrity Commissioner: Canada) – a values-based approach that transcends the rules to institutionalize democratic governance and ethical public service behaviours;
• Roger Angsomwine (Cabinet Secretary: Ghana) – a whole-of-government strategy for institutional capacity development to enable enforcement and empower leadership;
• Willie Samute (Deputy Cabinet Secretary: Malawi) – a contextual approach enlisting south-south cooperation, village justice, and peer pressure for those who seek to “jump the queue”; and
• Joe Eshun (Deloitte: East Africa) – a culture change from blame fixing and avoidance to taking responsibility for words and actions.
The panel concluded that corruption is increasingly complex and international in scope, necessitating sophisticated deployment of ICT and deregulation to foster more open government. Managing roles and relationships is at the heart of demystifying the sorcerer’s brew of crime and indiscretion. Governments have swung quite far in favour of centralized executive power. They need to restrain the instinct to make constraining behaviour the focus of stronger accountability.
Open government depends upon the independence and freedom to inform of parliamentary officers like the Auditor General, Budget Officer, and Integrity Commissioner. The media is responsible for commenting on government policy, not just for marketing celebrity and sensationalism. Public service values need to be re-asserted in the public interest.
Government cannot expect faith, but it should expect trust. Scandal and conspiracy need not be the price of doing business. The “Art of the Possible” depends upon putting solutions to open government ahead of partisan politics and tabloid journalism.