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How the ethics program fell back to earth


NOOSA - According to a recent study by the PNG National Research Institute (NRI), public servants trained in ethics and values-based leadership are sceptical that these courses can improve workplace behaviour.

Each year since 2015, with the aim of improving ethics on the job, selected groups of PNG public servants have been attending ethics and leadership courses at the Pacific Institute of Leadership and Governance.

The Australian government has poured a lot of money into this program in a triumph of hope over expectation.

The hope being that, in a context of well entrenched political corruption, public servants can somehow have the tendency out of them, and maybe even lead the way in extinguishing the C-word on a wider scale.

That was always going to be a hard ask in Papua New Guinea, where in official circles corruption is a word that dare not speak its name (even the NRI report on the study refers obliquely to “endemic incivility”).

So successfully tackling “the problem of ethics and lack of values-based cultures” in the public service looked as forlorn as fighting a bushfire with a swizzle stick.

However, back in 2015, the Australians, and especially then foreign minister Julie Bishop, were keen to make ethics-based training something of a spearhead in the aid program, and the Institute of Leadership and Governance was established to do just that.

Now, a study authored by personnel from another Institute, the NRI - Dr Francis Odhuno, Associate Professor Eugene Ezebilo and Jeremy Goro - seem to have dashed Ms Bishop’s hopes.

The trio surveyed an unknown number of public servants who had undertaken ethics and leadership training and compared them to a group of their peers who had not been so fortunate.

The task was to compare in both groups their positions on “six ethical values”: honesty, integrity, accountability, respect, wisdom and responsibility in the workplace.

(I wouldn’t agree that these are all ethical values rather than virtues or behaviours but I’m not up for a semantic argument against three academics.)

And so it was that Messrs Odhuno, Ezebilo and Goro found no significant relationship between taking the ethics and leadership course and the demonstration of any of the six ‘values’ in the workplace.

“Some PNG public servants can, however, demonstrate integrity, respect, and responsibility if they believe that they learnt something new, not necessarily from the ethics and values-based leadership courses, during their time at the Pacific Institute of Leadership and Governance,” the authors wrote, almost by way of compensation.

Having said that they concluded that “taking ethics and leadership courses does, therefore, not seem to be a determining factor in PNG public servants’ demonstration of ethical leadership traits.

“Instead, some public servants are able to consistently demonstrate integrity and respect without attending ethics and leadership courses.”

Which is not a surprise, because most of us are not trained in moral virtues to possess them – we can learn them at the knee, emulate them in those we respect, understand them from the sporting field or learn them from stories and, indeed, books of rules.

ProfitsOr be totally resistant to them altogether because they are found to get in the way of ambition, promotion or profit.

The three researchers conclude that training alone is probably not sufficient to inculcate ethical behaviour in individuals, still less to building values-based cultures in workplaces.

“And this,” they say, bringing things back to practicalities with a thud, “is likely to derail implementing the Ethics and Values-based Executive Leadership and Management Capability Framework championed by the Department of Personnel Management.”

I think I can feel a committee coming on.


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Bernard Corden

As I suspected it is underpinned by rule based or Kantian ethics, which is deontological and ultimately dehumanising.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It's worth noting that the ethics and leadership program seems to have involved Coffey International. It looks like they are also responsible for the brochure noted in my earlier comment.

Coffey International is a very large consultancy company. They claim to be "the lead in designing and managing large basic education programs in the Asia Pacific region."

"From Australia's first engagement in education development in the 1990s, Coffey's expertise has evolved with expertise across South East Asia and the Pacific."

Philip Fitzpatrick

As I understand it Pacific Institute of Leadership and Governance. is the latest iteration of the old 1960s era Admin College.

Kiaps of my generation attended it after their first term to get their qualifications as local court magistrates and to learn how to run local government councils.

Michael Somare and many other 1960s politicians also attended it and it was the birthplace of the Bully Beef Club that morphed into the PANGU Pati.

So it has a proud history.

In recent years bucket loads of money seems to have been poured into it by both the PNG government and the Australian government.

The brochure below gives an idea of all this largesse.

I find it hard to believe that its ethics and leadership courses have failed. If that is the case its very sad indeed.

Bernard Corden

I am always suspicious of surveys, especially if they involve an unknown number of people or fail to disclose its worldview.

I strongly suspect it was predominantly from a behaviourist and Kantian perspective and did not offer a transdisciplinary approach with existential dialectic and Aristotelian schools of thought.

The following links provides access to Alasdair MacIntyre's concept of virtue ethics

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