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2021, vol. 55, br. 3, str. 997-1017
Etika javne službe u lokalnoj samoupravi
Institut društvenih nauka, Beograd
Etika javne službe u okviru etičkih pristupa pripada deontološkoj etici. Ona obuhvata: moralnu kulturu zaposlenih, profesionalni integritet i integritet javne službe u okviru institucija. Etika javne službe zasniva se na etičkim principima profesionalaca: autonomiji, dobronamernosti, nenanošenju štete drugima i pravednom postupanju. Profesionalna udruženja su garancija za praktikovanje i poštovanje etičkih principa profesionalaca. Prihvatanje i poštovanje etičkih principa profesionalnih udruženja se samoregulacijom realizuje u etičkim kodeksima. Etički kodeksi temelje se na etičkim načelima profesionalaca: odgovornosti, otvorenosti, pristupačnosti, transparentnosti, uzornosti, poštovanju i učtivosti.


Public service ethics within ethical approaches, including moral theories, belongs to duty-based ethics, i. e. deontological ethics1. Duty-based ethics is based on the principle that every man has a duty to behave well in his relationship to other people. It is a man's duty to show respect "for others" (Kant, 1993, p. 251). In other words, duty-based ethics obliges people to possess a strong feeling of duty to behave in a moral manner in all forms of communication. There is no reason why a man should do harm, cause problems or be evil to someone at any moment. It is the duty of every individual always to think thoroughly how to treat others. In relationships to others, duty-based ethics stipulates that good and desirable consequences should always derive from it. Duty-based ethics is of particular importance regarding employees in public service, i.e. everything that refers to the organization of life achieved by politics and the state as its most important organization. Good organization aimed at dealing with the general good, justice and public interest relies exactly on duty-based ethics that is practised within public service.

Public service ethics includes moral culture of employees, their professional integrity and public service integrity in institutions (Heckler& Ronquillo, 2020).

Moral culture implies moral upbringing that is founded in the family (Čupić, 2010a, p. 35). When people or adult members of the family are persons who care for their own conscience, i.e. life filled with virtues, people are more moral. Upbringing lays the foundations of moral culture which then builds the man's moral being. Moral culture "prevents indecency" and "forms the way of thinking" (Kant, 1991, p. 45). In family, it is learned from the very beginning of the person's formation what is good and what is bad and, in addition, what is harmful within bad, and what is evil. If that is built in a young person, the assumption is that he/she will form conscience that is a moral law in that person. Through education and socialization, fundamental moral values are supplemented and developed. When they are fully developed in a person, it may be concluded that such being is dominated by moral culture. That person has not only developed consciousness and self-consciousness, but also conscience. That is the ideal to be strived for by the man in order to become moral, i.e. to be morally cultivated. Public service ethics relies on professional ethics and integrity of employees in public service.

All professions contain logic in themselves that is demonstrated by professional standards, as well as ethical principles that are the measure and guidepost in the application of professional standards. Every professional should, together with the knowledge in the profession he belongs to, should equally have developed conscience. Conscience, or character, refers to judgment of how a professional uses his/her professional knowledge (Kangrga, 2004, pp. 183–184). Developed conscience does not allow a professional to use professional knowledge in illegal acts, or for any kind of abuse.

Ethical principles of a professional

Ethical principles of a professional are the norms showing how a man should act in order to be moral, i.e. to perform his job conscientiously. Ethical principles of a professional are: autonomy, benevolence or benefaction, not causing harm to others, and fair conduct.

Autonomy implies that a professional can freely and independently make decisions in line with his/her knowledge, conscience and within law. Autonomous behaviour of a professional is opposed to any external pressure. Professionals are immune to bribe and all other temptations that may bring them to question, or to neutralize them morally. Kant warned that "an act that is not compliant with autonomy is prohibited" (Kant, 1981, p. 89).

Benevolence or benefaction is a motive to a professional to always do good to others unless it implies the violation of laws. Benevolence is sympathizing with others and helping others. Benevolence ensures easiness and good mood in the performance of jobs, as well as the feeling of joy for doing something good to others. It is completely different to perform a job in a cold manner instead of humanely and warmly. Benevolence causes no harm to anyone. It puts everyone around in a good mood and makes all participants in a job have the feeling of satisfaction.

The principle of not inflicting harm on others is extremely important in professional conduct. Not inflicting harm on anyone while doing a job in compliance with law is something that raises professionalism and shows high-level moral culture. Professionalism morally calls for providing well-being to others. Joseph Raz points out that "activities of value contribute to our well-being. A life cannot be called good if it is spent in meaningless, vindictive or self-humiliating aspirations etc. because they make life vulgar, despicable, miserable, and not good" (Raz, 2005, p. 13).

The principle of fair conduct implies that in performing jobs everyone should be treated in the same manner, i.e. that everyone within a job are equally treated (Rawls, 1998, pp. 70–71). Rules and fairness keep people living in a community or society and makes them feel good in such co-habitation. Fairness is "all that is formed and keeps happiness in general, and all that is created in a state community" (Aristotle, 1970, p. 113). When people live in injustice, they retreat deeply into their privacy and become uninterested in social and political life. In the state of injustice, people become indifferent and most often end up feeling depressed and helpless.

Without learning, acceptance and living in compliance with the listed professional standards and principles, there is no good professional. Profession is maintained not only by adopting and knowing standards, but also with the awareness of their importance and relevance. That is what makes professions and professionals respectable, and what makes their professional commitment moral. Profession and professionals carry along a feeling of prestige and respect, as well as the acquired status and autonomy in the performance of public jobs.

Professional associations

Associations that are established based on professions should take care of the conduct of their members, whether they abide by norms or violate them, and whether they develop criticism in associations that is of exceptional significance for improving and defending professional standards. Within a professional association, it is also necessary to elaborate sanctions as a warning, reprimand, disciplinary punishment and exclusion. Moreover, in some professions it is achieved through licenses that will be lost by the one who gravely misuses the profession and thus will no longer be permitted to practise that profession.

Profession is expected to ensure that its members are committed to honesty as a moral requirement. Furthermore, a different approach to working hours is expected. Working hours of professionals are always longer than the prescribed ones; even when leaving business premises, a professional will always take along the problem that has not been resolved but should be resolved as soon as possible. It is necessary to save time, i.e. achieve economy in resolving a certain case. Proper conduct is also expected from profession, which is achieved by honesty, discipline and efficiency. This creates an impression and a feeling that a professional should not be suspected. In other words, any form of suspicion should be omitted. A professional is particularly expected to support moral standards, which ensures him respect both within the profession and among citizens.

Within profession, i.e. professional associations, all of these are regulated from within. That is self-regulation. Self-regulation is achieved by codes of ethics.

Codes of ethics

Codes of ethics define ideals that members of profession should pursue and harmonize their specific jobs with them, i.e. perform their practice strictly abiding by those ideals. That is why "codes of ethics list a number of ideals which should be aimed at by professionals and participants in public affairs and to which their professional conduct, behaviour and public appearance should be adjusted" (Čupić, 2021, p. 240). Moreover, for codes it is important that a certain number of norms and rules stipulate disciplinary procedures. Codes of ethics contain the conditions that should and must be fulfilled by a member of a profession. If an individual fails to fulfil this, his/her conduct will be sanctioned until exclusion. Codes accurately list the rules of conduct. Professional codes of ethics are measured by universal values, as well as special ethical norms desirable in a given society. In that manner it is determined whose good should be served by profession. Speaking of the public sphere or, in this case, of public service, a profession should serve public or general needs and interests.

A code should also have the following characteristics: it should connect ideals and sanctions, i.e. regulate both; it should protect a general interest, but also interests of those whose profession is to provide services; a code should not address only professional interests; it should be clear and precise, with the provisions that warranty an honest relationship.

A code lists what members of a profession must not do – lie, steal, cheat... In addition, professionals should not deal with traps, use loops in the law or gray zones, or perform legal jobs in an unethical manner (for example, by not providing complete information, by postponing decisions and solutions, or by covering up problems). Codes emphasize that professionals should warn the legislator about legal errors, poor laws or selectivity deriving from legal regulations. A code should contain rules, procedures and mechanisms of implementation (Enciso, Milikin, O’Rourke, 2017, p. 69). If a code does not include sanctions, it is reduced to the recommendations in relation to a set of ideals listed in it.

Ethical principles of local self-government officials

Ethical principles measure the conduct of officials in their performance of work. Every official has two responsibilities: the first one refers to him/her as a responsible individual, while the second one refers to the function that he/she performs professionally. The principles are at the same time instructions helping an official to behave in a responsible, disciplined and rational manner in job performance. It is assumed that officials will observe the principles if they have already developed personal responsibility and if they have proved in performing professional assignments at the time when they were not officials. Code principles will certainly be applied smoothly by those officials who have been appointed by the criterion of developed personal responsibility and discipline, but also through selection by professional standards. In those cases when officials are appointed outside professional standards, particularly by the criteria of their loyalty to those outside the profession, these principles will be difficult to practise. That why it is necessary to apply the principles in recommending and establishing sanctions that will serve as a deterrent so that an official does not fiddle or manipulate with the principles.

Ethical principles are one of the mechanisms that should help the man to observe professional standards and applicable laws in performing some jobs. Different experiences show that people, when tempted, tend to do something that disturbs their relationship towards the general good. That is particularly manifested when individuals are promoted to public functions.

Temptations usually derive from greed, as something that exists as a possibility in human nature, from the desire for power that will be demonstrated over others; from loyalty to those who are superior in the hierarchy, especially those in important political functions in power, from loyalty to the family that may lead to the abuse of the position, i.e. the employment of family members without necessary qualifications, or finding them jobs for which they are insufficiently eligible.

Nepotism is a way of officials' abuse of their functions within public service (Joković, 2018, p. 448). That is why codes insist that officials should observe laws and the constitution, i.e. behave as stipulated by the rule of law. By observing the rule of law, an official will remove everything that might lead him to a temptation and thus let down his/her vocation, i.e. professional standards, as well as what is defined within a particular job (Gajić, Stojanović Kerić, Joković, 2020, str. 36).

The first rule for local self-government officials is responsibility. Officials have responsibility that is connected, i.e. caused. Such connection or causality consists of two types of responsibility – moral and legal (Thompson, 2007).

Moral responsibility imposes that an official should have a developed feeling that what he/she does is truthful, good and fair (Čupić, 2010b, p. 22). Moreover, moral responsibility implies freedom, or the fact that an official will not be forced to do anything. An official has the freedom of choice in relation to moral responsibility. In order to make that choice moral, which also makes an official morally responsible, he/she should always choose and do something that brings general benefits to a local community. Moral responsibility implies that an official has completed his job based on his/her own decision, without being forced in any manner, consciously and conscientiously and, what is of particular importance, willingly. Moral responsibility implies freedom and not coercion.

Individual as well as professional responsibility, are in the essence of moral responsibility. An official who is individually responsible will also be responsible from the aspect of the job he/she does. Without individual responsibility there is no business responsibility either. Individual moral responsibility demands that an official should never cause injustice, humiliation, harm or suffering to others, i.e. citizens or employees.

An official's professional responsibility demands that he/she never brings to question the knowledge and standards of profession. It derives from individual and professional responsibility that an official with a choice in decision-making should always opt for those decisions that will contribute to the public good or public interest.

Unlike moral responsibility, legal responsibility is related to laws and regulations (Čupić, 2010b, p. 23). It is possible to be precisely determined and established. Of course, fairness, according to Aristotle, calls for amendments to a law that is "incomplete due to its generality" (Aristotle, 1970, p. 139). If an official does something that is against the law, he/she behaves in a legally irresponsible manner. Caused responsibility makes an official responsible, although he/she shares such responsibility with those who implement his/her decisions. The visible part of responsibility is always with the executor. In a linked chain of jobs, however, equal moral and legal responsibility is borne by an official who orders a certain job to be completed. Legal responsibility demands that an official should strictly observe laws, regulations and rules in the performance of a certain business assignment. By observing laws, regulations and rules, an official will avoid mistakes in work, as well as omissions that might affect citizens or employees to his/her wrong decisions.

For the sake of decision-making based on moral, professional and legal grounds, it is important that an official is ready to accept criticism, but also to be accountable to supervisory and controlling bodies (Čupić, 2021, pp. 173–174). Criticism, supervision and control will contribute to the reduction of the risk that an official will make an irresponsible decision. Furthermore, moral and legal responsibility of an official in local self-government sharpens his/her readiness to hear opinions coming from public or to search on his/her own, through various forms of communication with citizens, for their opinions so that what he/she does would be moral, professional as well as legally responsible.

Moral and legal responsibility call for the readiness of an official to account for everything he/she does in public. If a wrong decision has caused harmful consequences, a morally responsible official will apologize in public. If the mistake is of such nature that it is hardly acceptable to the public, that official will resign. Such resignation is a matter of the official's conscience. It is a moral act. For mistakes of material nature, the official should be held accountable on grounds of discipline, violation or criminal offense.

The responsibility of a local authority or institution implies that its official, who has caused harmful consequences by his/her decisions, should be dismissed. Dismissal is an important instrument when it comes to the responsibility of an official, as well as an institution. It is an official's moral and legal responsibility to cooperate with relevant bodies, in particular with the prosecutor's office, a court of law, a commissioner for information of public interest, an ombudsman, a state auditor, as well as with the Anti-Corruption Agency.

Local self-government officials are particularly responsible during an election campaign. A responsible official will not use privately or allow anyone to use local revenues and premises for the election needs of political parties. That official will abide strictly and precisely by the defined rules for the role of local self-government in organizing elections.

Speaking of the management function, an official bears personal responsibility, as well as two others: responsibility for implementing law in the manner it has been stipulated, and responsibility to citizens who fulfil their needs in relation to the jobs within public service. A responsible official will always accept supervisory and controlling bodies that help him/her in performing work in compliance with the law. Criticism, supervision and control actually serve an official facing everyday temptations to reconsider the potential consequences of his/her illegal conduct. The responsibility of an official also includes taking care of the fact that his/her job is always closely monitored by the public, in particular by public press. All this makes an official pay constant attention to his/her responsibility.

The second ethical principle of local self-government officials is openness, accessibility and transparency. Ever since ancient Greece, it has been believed that everything belonging to politics and political life should be public and accessible, and that state authorities and institutions should be open to all proposals and suggestions about their own functioning. Speaking of openness in political life, it primarily refers to openness for public good, i.e. everything that refers to public interest and public in general. Openness does not imply privacy and insight into someone's private life. Closed politics, i.e. secret or arcane politics, is always problematic and dangerous because behind it there is a hidden personal or particular interest that is imposed as general and public. For these reasons, nothing that is associated with the functioning of authorities and institutions must be closed to the public, i.e. citizens.

Openness in the performance of a public function is considered to be two-way: openness of officials and institutions to citizens, and openness of citizens to officials and institutions.

By openness in performing jobs an official shows to citizens that he/she accepts their openness and that it will never be abused. When citizens are afraid of openly expressing their opinion about local authorities and institutions, there is no honesty or openness in that respect.

Openness also implies the acceptance of the criticism of citizens, as well as of the employees in local authorities and institutions. If an official is ready to accept criticism as something that does not dispute or brings him/her into question, he/she shows readiness for sensible, rational and reasonable facing with a problem within that official's scope of authority. Officials who accept criticism are open. Citizens also recognize an official's openness on the basis of the absence of dishonesty in his/her conduct. citizens are ready to cooperate with that official openly in relation to everything they are interested in, which improves and upgrades both their own and public matters, i.e. public affairs.

An official also shows openness by being accessible. If an official is open to citizens, as well as to employees, he/she will always be accessible to them too. Accessibility shows how open and ready an official is to share everything he/she does publicly both with citizens and with employees. This ethical principle shows an official's virtues – broad-mindedness, interest and passion for the general cause and general affairs, but also for all specific requests of the citizens addressing him/her. By respecting this principle, an official will gain true authority-in terms of being a model and behaving properly. Such an official will not only be accepted but also extremely appreciated by citizens. Openness and accessibility enable an official to get an insight into his/her own work by becoming familiar with the opinions of citizens and employees. By offering citizens an insight in to his/her work, an official shows that he/she is both accessible and open. A public insight into his/her work is the best recommendation for a public official performing his/her jobs professionally and with responsibility (De George, 2003, p. 127).

Exemplarity is one of ethical principles applied by local self-government officials. Exemplarity demands that in his/her conduct, both public and private, an official must never undermines his/her personal reputation, the public function he/she performs and the authority or institution he/she is employed in (Gajić, Stojanović Kerić, Joković, 2020, p.36). As a model, an official will gain respect and trust of citizens, including those who directly cooperate with him/her. An official's proposals, messages, solutions and decisions will be accepted because they do not put anyone into an unequal position. Taking care of the reputation of the institution he/she works in, an official should constantly maintain that reputation and also set an example of how to perform a public function. By setting a personal example, an official establishes the principle of what should be the man's proper conduct in public and private life.

Respect in human communication shows someone's decency. A decent relationship towards others and appreciation of others as persons is both good and nice. Respect always shows the appreciation of the dignity of others. In that manner people also gain self-respect because if in a relationship in which you respect someone, you get feedback that you are also respected, you will also gain self-respect. Without self-respect there is no respect for others.

Respect is gained in the family through upbringing, and then it is developed through education and socialization. If people respect one another, potential conflicts are easily resolved too. Respect is particularly manifested in the circumstances when due to their business obligations people have multiple contacts with others. It is in these contacts that people show whether they respect others and how that respect is maintained. Respect must not be calculated, i.e. pre-planned, particularly when it comes to officials. They should not respect those they have some benefit from while treating others coldly and disrespectfully. The man who acts in that way has not adopted respect as one of life principles.

Respect is also shown in relation to hierarchy. Officials respect their superiors, while they have no respect whatsoever for their inferiors. They are often condescending to their inferiors, treating them like servants or mere executors who must unconditionally obey an official's commands or orders. An official behaving in that way has no respect for others or self-respect, since respect implies equal treatment of all. Respect should not be confused with non-commitment, irresponsibility and indiscipline. Those who behave in an irresponsible and undisciplined manner can be clearly and precisely shown what they do and how they violate rules in relation to others, but still without bringing respect into question. There should be no respect for illegal conduct, abuse and violence.

Officials who warn all those not behaving in line with the requirements of their positions show that, by respecting laws and regulations, they also respect the position of those who do certain jobs within their scope of authority. An official's respect implies a higher degree of tolerance as compared to the tolerance of those to whom he/she is superior, or those he/she is in charge of. By being tolerant, an official shows the ability to organize work well, while at the same time respecting all those he/she cooperates with. Tolerance refers to the conduct that causes no harm, but may disturb interpersonal relationships.

Respect is always shown through politeness. Politeness implies decency, proper conduct and kindness that does not provoke people but that binds them as well as relaxes them when they encounter problems. A polite official shows that he/she is well-bred, that he/she approaches people benevolently and creates the atmosphere of trust and gentleness. Politeness wins people over. It reduces all forms of tension resulting from various problems affecting people. Politeness implies receiving citizens benevolently, while showing good will and understanding for their problems and speaking to them with patience.

Politeness also calls for appropriate words used by an official, words that exude decency and are free of intolerance or vulgar contents. A decent man's language and use of words are such that they do not provoke negative emotions and the stat of tension and irritability. Respect and politeness are also related to care and time dedicated to someone. In other words, by being respectful and polite you show your patience and/or good will to listen to citizens and to encourage them with your own attitude in the best possible manner to say everything thy find necessary in order to resolve their problems. The way someone looks at others and makes gestures can substantially disturb respect and politeness. That is why a polite person always takes care how to look at others and what gestures to make. That is non-verbal communication, quite significant in dealings with citizens.

Politeness is a combination of speaking to others, looking at them and making gestures in a benevolent and nice manner and, when it comes to officials, it will include citizens and employees. When someone behaves respectfully and politely to others, even when they have to say something unfavourable, it will sound different. Through respect and politeness people learn to understand more easily that their request is unacceptable because it is not based on laws or regulations. The principle of respect and politeness is not forced and sanctioned; it is a good recommendation that shows someone's moral upbringing and culture, as well as ethics in work.

In performing his work, an official should always do his/her duty by demonstrating impartiality, honesty and fairness.

"An official shows impartiality through non-discrimination, i.e. equal treatment of those he/she works with as well as citizens they contact in the course of doing work. Nondiscrimination implies that no one can be discriminated because of their race, sex, ethnicity, religion, class, social stratum or any other affiliation. Impartiality is shown through the principle of equal and identical treatment of all before the law" (Gajić, Stojanović Kerić, Joković, 2020, str.44).

Honesty implies that "an official is objective and that he/she will never do anything that is contrary to law, as well as that he/she will avoid being led by private interests into a situation to do something that is not in compliance with the professional logic or law" (Gajić, Stojanović Kerić, Joković, 2020, str.44). Through impartiality and honesty an official achieves fair conduct in performing his/her function.

For an official it is very important to perform his/her function conscientiously and rationally. Rational performance of the function means that an official will search for solutions in which costs of doing work will be reduced to a minimum, while at the same time ensuring that quality is not threatened. Moreover, purposefulness is also important for an official in doing different jobs. This implies the selection in primacy. In fulfilling citizens' requirements, there are primary and secondary requirements and interests. All these requirements and interests are justified, but due to the lack of funds, purposefulness must come first, i.e. the most important requirements and interests are selected at a given moment. For example, a medical institution needs to buy a car for its manager, but also some missing medical devices. The manager who takes care of rationality and purposefulness will always give priority to medical devices. An official should take care of personal integrity and the integrity of public service he/she is employed in (Salminen & Mäntysalo, 2013, p. 168). Personal integrity and the integrity of the function act as a deterrent, particularly in the event of corruptive temptations or external pressures, especially of those with party or political functions. Guided by the principle of personal integrity, an official is aware that he/she should never give priority of private and personal interests over public interests. Personal integrity helps an official to prevent the conflict of interests both regarding himself/herself or others within public service. The conflict of interests may also occur at the level of public and private, but it can also be caused by assuming too many functions. An official is obliged to take care not only of his/her own integrity, but also of the integrity of the public service he/she works in. It means that an official should take care not to allow any abuse or illegality, but to disclose publicly the abuse, illegal and corruptive acts of others, and thus prevent unconscientious officials from bringing into question the integrity of the public service they work in.

For every official working in public services it is essential to treat both employees and citizens only with respect, i.e. not to bring into question anyone’s personal dignity. Respect is a prerequisite for someone’s job being performed in the most professional manner. It does not mean that someone who violates law or manipulates should be spoken with words that will disturb their dignity, disdain or mark them in a vulgar way. Therefore it is important that someone is clearly and precisely faced with what is not permitted, while no disdaining words are used in the process. Politeness is one of great in the performance of a public function. Politeness reduces the possibility of inappropriate words or acts.

“Politeness helps in the best possible manner in reducing everything that might cause a conflict to such an extent as not to hurt anyone physically, mentally or spiritually. Faced with politeness, everything that is undesirable will stop and lose strength that might in the least cause discomfort” (Gajić, Stojanović Kerić, Joković, 2020, str. 60).

When public service ethics is practised, the cultural level of officials is raised in the performance of public jobs, as well as the level of citizens’ culture. Ethics affects the cultivation of relations among people, the discipline, responsibility and conscientiousness of managers in the performance of the jobs relevant to the lives of people in a local environment, i.e. in local self-government.


1For contemporary approaches and problems of deontological ethics see the text “Contemporary Deontology” by Nancy Davis (Nancy Davis, 2004, pp. 299–317).


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O članku

jezik rada: srpski, engleski
vrsta rada: izvorni naučni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg55-33339
primljen: 29.07.2021.
prihvaćen: 20.08.2021.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 29.10.2021.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
Creative Commons License 4.0

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