For Good Governance – Ethics

2.20 Code of Ethics


Codes of ethics are a necessary element of good governance. Municipal codes of ethics not only provide ethical guidelines for municipal officials and employees, they are critical in restoring public trust in government. Such codes ought to affirm transparent conduct and government practices, by mandating that elected officials and executive-level personnel file financial disclosure forms disclosing assets and liabilities in excess of a certain value threshold.

Similarly, codes of ethics for NGOs, professional associations and the media, must also lay down the principles of expected behaviour from the other pillars of society. Such codes can act as one of the most effective tools for bringing about positive changes within civil society organizations and the constituencies they serve. Codes of ethics for these organizations must be developed and applied through active participation of all concerned stakeholders.

Purpose of Municipal Code of Ethics

  • To establish transparent frameworks for government officials with respect to voting and other decision-making processes.
  • To ensure transparency and ethical conduct by government employees and officials.
  • To restore or foster public trust and citizen confidence in the administration of government.
  • To demonstrate a formal and codified commitment to ethical behaviour by government officials.

Purpose of Code of Ethics for Civil Society

  • To provide a framework for self-governance of the civil society organizations and institutions through a set of statements of principles and values that inform and improve decision-making.

Linkage to Transparency

All Codes of Ethics, whether for municipal officials, civil society organizations, the media or professional associations, must include certain basic principles of professional conduct. These could comprise (but need not be restricted to) the following

  • Impartiality, objectivity, discrimination
  • Confidentiality
  • Due diligence/duty of care
  • Fidelity to professional responsibilities
  • Avoiding potential or apparent conflict of interest
  • Legality (respect for the rule of law)
  • Integrity and honesty
  • Transparency and openness;
  • Efficiency;
  • Equality;
  • Justice; and
  • Responsibility, i.e., maintaining one’s reputation and responsibility for faults.

There is no single method for constructing an ethics infrastructure in public service. Rather, a combination of incentives and sanctions is needed to encourage professional standards of conduct. This is also prudent counsel to those who are taking on the responsibility of drafting, adopting, and implementing codes of ethics.

Codes of Ethics, when combined with other tools such as Conflict of Interest Laws (see 2.15) and Disclosure Laws (see 2.16), promote openness and transparency by establishing processes that support the application of the latter.

Read the full version document with active links. The previous excerpt is part of Tools to Build Transparency in Local Governance. The toolkit is a Global Campaign to promote good urban governance by empowering citizens to fight corruption, a joint effort of Transparency International and United Nations – Habitat.

‘Effective local governments truly do run on a combination of strong political leadership and good management. When either part of this equation is underperforming, the community can certainly suffer. The best approach to charting a better course is to assess what is wrong and develop a strategy for making improvements or changes as needed.

To the extent that the concern is with the performance of the governing body, the discussion is most appropriately led by community leaders, residents, and elected officials. Responsibility for deciding whether elected officials are making wise decisions and are competent to serve in their role rests solely with the voters and community at large. There simply is no role for the manager to play in that assessment or to use the position of manager to influence the outcome of the discussion.’

Excerpt from International City/County Management Association –
Respecting Roles and Responsibilities


Blissfield – Don’t we deserve a written code of ethics in our community?

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