Dec 29, 2014

Professional Integrity in public positions

Jonathan Burrows was a managing director at Blackrock, a giant asset management firm. Though he earned a million pounds salary, he avoided paying around 14 pounds of rail fare for daily commute in London, and instead chose to dodge ticket barriers. His total fare avoidance added to around 43000 pounds over five years.
He was caught one day. He not only lost his employment, but was also banned from the financial industry altogether by the regulator in UK, viz. the Financial Conduct Authority. You can read details on the specific event here
There was no direct link between how Jonathan behaved in the office (his record in office was impeccably clean), to his fare avoidance behaviour outside it. However, Jonathan committed the dodge knowing well that it was unlawful to do so. And that is what the FCA was not happy about. In a terse statement FCA said, "Jonathan's actions fell short of standards we expect in the financial industry." Jonathan handled public investments and his integrity of character was not beyond doubt, prompting the ban by the regulator.

In  positions that handle public affairs in the government, the official chosen should muster a pass in the test of integrity of character. Unfortunately in India, neither the current method of selection at UPSC, nor the subsequent annual appraisal reports of the officers check this aspect. UPSC doesn't do any kind of psychometric tests while selecting the candidates, and instead relies on rote learning and mastery of obsolete theories, which might not have any relevance in assessment of character or the functions in day to day activities of public officials. Once in the govt job, the integrity column in the annual appraisals of officers are usually filled will mumbo-jumbos such as "Nothing adverse has come to my notice." Also, the vigilance actions and departmental enquiries leave a lot to be desired as they can be misused to harass an honest officer.

In the absence of any guidance in the matter, it becomes difficult to weed out people with loose morals from reaching top levels in the administration. Any level of competence cannot justify a lack of integrity of character. A society that accepts this without protest will suffer longer than usual.