You are a Secretary in a government department. Your Minister has proposed an unemployment grant, which is expected to cost the public exchequer heavily. Having already made the decision, he asks you to come up with research to support the scheme. Despite your best efforts, you fail to find socio-economic benefit in it. You approach the Minister with relevant facts and studies and ask him to reconsider his decision. Instead, he asks you to suppress the negative impacts and actively promote the scheme through mass media as the perceived social impacts are more important than economic impacts. Elections are due in a short time and the political party currently in power is expected to win. You are also due for promotion at the same time. You are expected to fully cooperate in the situation and make the scheme a success, however flawed its foundations may be. (a) List the different stakeholders in the above situation and mention their prospective interests. (b) Discuss the ethical dilemma which you face in this situation. (c) Some of the alternatives for you to handle the situation could be: (i) Do as asked by the Minister. (ii) Insist on publication of results and let the public decide whether it wants the scheme. (iii) Call a press conference and brief the media about the results and the callous attitude of the Minister. Suggest any other possible option(s). Evaluate all of them and suggest the best course of action, giving reasons for it. (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • List the facts of the case, mention various stakeholders. The prospective interest must be inferred from the facts. Avoid giving unverifiable opinions.
  • Bring out the ethical dilemma faced.
  • Evaluate all the available options – mention their merits and demerits.
  • Give the course of action. Try to address the demerits mentioned and evolve a comprehensive solution.

Answer:

Facts of the case:

  • The proposed unemployment grant will cost the exchequer heavily.
  • Detailed study about the proposed scheme shows a net negative socio-economic impact. The minister has refused to reconsider the decision.
  • Elections are due in a short time. My promotion is also due at the same time.

From the above facts, it can be argued that although the minister is himself not engaging in corruption, he is using the loopholes of the system to fulfil his electoral compulsions.

a) Different stakeholders and their prospective interests

  • Secretary: As a civil servant, it is his duty to give an honest opinion to the political executive. However, once a decision is taken, he should implement it wholeheartedly. Not obeying legal and legitimate orders amounts to dereliction of duty. Also, it will portray him as non-flexible and show him in poor light. Defying orders may jeopardize his career prospects also.
  • Minister: Successful implementation of the scheme will probably bring electoral gains for his party.
  • Beneficiaries of the grant (unemployed people): They may benefit in the short run, but as the scheme does not have a positive socio-economic impact, real benefits may be scarce.
  • General public: Taxpayers money should be spent effectively and the executive should be held accountable for it. The public has an interest in knowing the efficacy of the expenditure.

 

b) Ethical dilemma faced

As a civil servant unsatisfied with the decision of the political executive, I face the dilemma of whether or not to honestly implement a scheme from which I am certain no positive will come out. As an implementing agency, I will be held accountable for the success/failure of the scheme. Since I am convinced that this scheme will lead to a waste of public money, I will have to choose between larger public interest and self-interest. Thus, the dilemma is choosing between something which is legally right v/s other which is morally right in the light of public interest.

 

c) Alternatives available to me

i. Do as asked by the Minister.

Merits: I will be abiding in letter to the duty to implement the will of the political executive. Steadfastly implementing the scheme will also reflect my commitment to duty and will further my career prospects.

Demerits: Will lead to the wastage of public money and breach of the trust of the public in the government. Also, I will face cognitive dissonance and may not be able to keep myself motivated during the implementation.

ii.  Insist on publication of results and let the public decide whether it wants the scheme.

Merits: Adherence to transparency is the cornerstone of good governance. It will help the public to choose what is best for them. It will encourage people’s participation in decision making and may set a precedent for all schemes in the future.

Demerits: As soon as the issue comes in the public domain, the narrative will be hijacked by political compulsions and any rollback would become exceedingly impossible. Changes which could have been made earlier would now become more difficult. Public discussion will also entail substantial expenditure and time.

iii. Call a press conference and brief the media about the results and the callous attitude of the Minister.

Merits: Will bring the matter into the public domain and expose the callous decision-making process. It may force the minister to reconsider.

Demerits: Media briefing will be against the principle of anonymity and secrecy. Such steps should be taken when all other remedies have been exhausted and when the case is of personal or organizational corruption. Moreover, I may be seen as being excessively stubborn, if not in open defiance of authority.

 

Course of action:

Foremost, I will try to modify the scheme to make it more prudent and effective. I will put honest comments for consideration to make my views clear. Further, I will try to convince the minister of getting the public opinion before going ahead with the scheme. This will be achieved through the publication of the broad outlines and engaging in public discussions. Rather than being hijacked politically, wise handling of the issue can in fact bring positive feedback for the government. In the process, I can also improve my understanding of the socio-economic needs of the people. Once the public opinion is incorporated, I will implement the scheme with dedication.

 

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