Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ethics training for officials far too late

Civil servants are having classes in moral standards: but the real problem is a lack of proper supervision

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Guanyu 道 said...

Ethics training for officials far too late

Civil servants are having classes in moral standards: but the real problem is a lack of proper supervision

Alice Yan
24 December 2011

Mainland civil servants are used to being sent on a wide variety of compulsory training courses, but the latest one looks like being too little, too late, to fix a very real problem.

They have been ordered to take part in a national programme requiring them to learn “core values” by attending at least six hours of “professional ethics” training in the next four years. The aim? To encourage them to “be loyal to the country, serve the people, responsible for the job and be just and clean”.

Jiangsu became the first province to implement the campaign, mobilising its civil servants at the end of last month to join 12 hours of professional ethics classes.

Some officials who have taken the course said they were taught basics such as the obligations and code of conduct for civil servants, the world outlook and the correct view of power.

They were also taught moral anecdotes about ancient officials renowned for their incorruptibility. Several model civil servants were also invited to share their experiences.

The provincial civil service bureau’s training and supervision department said the training class hours should be strictly observed, with punishments for officials who played truant, arrived late or left early. In April, all the officials in the province will be required to sit a test on what they have learnt. Other ethics-boosting activities will also be held, ranging from speech contests to essay competitions.

The campaign’s heart might be in the right place but its chances of achieving its goal of a corruption-free bureaucracy look slim to say the least, given the pervasive nature of the problem.

Most mainlanders have a negative impression of their officials, after widespread reports of dereliction of duty, corruption and arrogance, not to mention other forms of criminality and degenerate and extravagant lifestyles. People joke bitterly that there is almost no official who is not corrupt and lascivious.

Dr Hu Wei, dean of the school of international and public affairs at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said the training was launched because Beijing was aware of the public’s mistrust and disdain.

The People’s Daily’s website reported that Beijing’s anxiety could also be seen in the programme’s guidelines, issued to governments across the country, which describe the compulsory courses as a “strategic task”, and thus more important than run-of-the-mill training.

But Hu said that trying to drag officials back to an upright path through training was clearly not the right answer to the problem.

“Can moral standards be improved by an intensified training?” Hu asked. “Didn’t the jailed officials know that it’s wrong to be corrupt and to abuse their power?”

It is the absence of checks and supervision on government officials under one-party rule that turns officials bad. Governments, from the top to the grass-roots, are generally opaque and domestic media do not dare to cover official malpractice aggressively, Hu said. The mainland education system’s emphasis on academic knowledge, and its neglect of moral instruction, was also partly to blame for officials’ poor ethics.

The way to improve moral standards is to introduce democracy and political reform. Without such change, officials will continue to talk the talk about being selfless and serving the people wholeheartedly, but never walk the walk.