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Public officers assume the sole responsibility to serve the interest of the public upon assumption of office. However, they violate this by using their offices to influence the issuance of tenders, violating social values of personal integrity, misappropriating funds meant for the public.
Public officers usually face serious legal penalties if they are found to be violating these ethical codes. In some instances, it may lead to permanent forfeiture of the public offices that they hold. Section 1090 of the Government Code particularly prohibits employees from getting involved in contracts that they can use their offices to influence (Romm, 2001). In the case involving Robert Citron, there is little doubt that he used his office to acquire government tenders. Moreover, he was certainly driven by a personal financial interest in his decision to borrow $14 billion and invest it in complex derivatives contracts with Merrill Lynch & Company. Thus he violated the social value of putting the interests of the public before his interests (Williams, 2006). In addition, he violated organizational value that prohibits abuse of office to unduly influence business. That’s probably why he pleaded guilty of misappropriating funds, although his oath of office read the contrary. However, it must be noted that this public officer was faced with competing interests. He was either to seize the moment to make some personal financial gains or remain true to his oath of office in protecting the interests of the people. It was a hard choice making, especially considering that ethical culture had been considerably eroded at the moment. According to the literature, this practice became quite popular in California after the enactment of Proposition 13 (Diane, 2008).
Ethics & Accountability
The concept of accountability in public ethics and governance is a matter that should be taken very seriously. This is because an individual is holding a public office and that they have sworn to uphold the ethical standards of public offices, there should be a system that ensures that they remain accountable to these commitments. This is the fundamental responsibility that public officers have to the public that the law gives them a responsibility to protect (Mulgan, 2000).
Although this mainly applies to officers in government offices, ethical standards should ideally apply to a non-profit organization and corporate sector as much as they apply to the public sector. However, this is hardly ever realized in the corporate and non-profit organizations as they don’t get the direct pressure of the public demanding accountability (Roberts, 1982). Usually, the public acts directly on the government that they have put in office to protect them against the private companies instead of trying to act on the institutions. This is the principle of the oath of office that they take (Dubois; Fattore, 2009).
The political class also has a responsibility to ensure accountability and office ethics. The idea here is that there are adequate laws that if properly implemented would provide water-tight protection to the public interest (Grant; Keohane, 2005). In case the laws no longer serve the public, the political class has the sole responsibility to change them to make them more responsive to the interests of the people. However, this ideal political environment is hardly achieved, especially in this era when political offices are staffed with psychopaths who have no heart for the common citizens (Ezzamel, 1997).
Public officers have a responsibility to protect the interests of the public. However, this is never ideally realized as regulating bodies occasionally relax in their watchdog roles, allowing erosion of ethical culture. However, the political environment has the mandate to restore sanity whenever ethics seem to be failing.
- Diane Stone, (2008) ‘Global Public Policy, Transnational Policy Communities and their Networks,’ Journal of Policy Sciences.
- Dubois, Hans F. W.; Fattore, Giovanni (2009). International Journal of Public Administration. 32. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 704–727.
- Ezzamel, Mahmoud (1997). “Accounting, Control and Accountability: Preliminary Evidence from Ancient Egypt”. Critical Perspectives on Accounting 8 (6): 563–601.
- Grant, Ruth W.; Keohane, Robert O. (2005). “Accountability and Abuses of Power in World Politics”. American Political Science Review 99 (1): 29–43
- Mulgan, Richard (2000). “‘Accountability’: An Ever-Expanding Concept?”. Public Administration 78 (3): 555
- Roberts, Jennnifer T. (1982). Accountability in Athenian Government. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Romm, Norma RA (2001). Accountability in Social Research. New York: Springer
- Williams, Christopher (2006) Leadership accountability in a globalizing world. London: Palgrave Macmillan.