1. Prologue
  2. Essay-ish / Abstract Questions
  3. Ethics Case Studies / Role playing Questions
    1. Disobeying an informal order
    2. Returning unspent money
    3. Misleading for good purpose
    4. Private matter of Public employee?
    5. Political neutrality
    6. Political neutrality Part.2
    7. Salary hike vs Team spirit
    8. Holding Charity Auctions in the Office
    9. Spouse in the same office
    10. Private endorsement by Public Official
    11. Man of Word or Man of Money?
    12. Courage with a price tag


So far in the [Ethics] mock-question series

  1. UPSC’s sample paper for GS4
  2. Samples questions based on ethics courses of San Diego and Texas University

Now this this articles contains case-studies/questions are based on Donald C. Menzel’s book Ethics Moments in Government:Cases and Controversies.

  • For the Essay-ish questions I’ve merely lifted statements from the book. Because UPSC seems to be doing similar thing for Public Administration (lift sentences from some book and ask the candidate to ‘comment’ on it).
  • for the case-studies questions, I’ve given Indian flavor to those American cases and included a few answer key points but by no means they’re sacred/official/final/marksworthy- they’re only meant to serve as lighthouse for the utterly confused.

Essay-ish / Abstract Questions

Answer following questions 12 marks/120 words each:

  1. What do you understand by ethics audit? How is it different from financial audit?
  2. Are ethics practices and behaviors in the business world different than those found in public service? If so, why?
  3. Describe an ethical issue you have had to address in your school or college life and the way you handled it. If confronted with the same issue today, would you handle it in the same way?
  4. Are ethical standards in business organizations higher or lower than those in public service organizations?
  5. Is there more unethical behavior in government than in business?
  6. Do you believe the ethical performance of an employee can be evaluated fairly and accurately? Yes/No/Why?
  7. Is a professional code of ethics that is not enforceable a satisfactory code? Yes/No/Why?
  8. How does corrupt behavior resemble or differ from unethical behavior?
  9. Should we hold appointed officials, such as collectors and tehsildaars, to a higher standard of behavior than elected officials such as municipal councilors? Yes/No/Why?
  10. Gandhi always advocated the purity of means- with respect to that, do you think it is unethical for a military officer to mislead the enemy? Yes/No/Why?

Comment on following statements (12 marks/120 words each)

  1. Ethics are less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.
  2. Righteous disobedience is better than Moral muteness.
  3. Exemplary leadership is critical to encouraging ethical behavior in government organizations.
  4. Openness and transparency are critical safeguards that keep our democracy alive and well.
  5. Ethical codes are merely veneers. Shiny on the outside but hollow on the inside.
  6. Living up to the public trust is much more than just an act of compliance.
  7. Ethics is the cornerstone of effective, efficient, democratic governance.
  8. Ethics may be only instrumental, it may be only a means to an end, but it is a necessary means to an end.
  9. The relationships between ethics, service, and trust are mutually reinforcing.
  10. Ignorance is not an excuse for misconduct.
  11. Those who commit misconduct out of ignorance should be treated less harshly.
  12. If men were angels, no government would be necessary
  13. Humans roam the earth, not the heavens, so ethics are indispensable.
  14. Honesty and truthfulness have to be practiced and balanced with delicate diplomacy on some occasions.
  15. List the reforms necessary to encourage ethical behavior and prevent misconduct in public organizations of India.

Ethics Case Studies / Role playing Questions

Disobeying an informal order

DevAnand is working as a clerk in Collector’s office. Due to staff shortage, Dev also performs the task of raising flag over the office building every morning and taking it down every evening, although it is not part of his official job description.

One day a criminal turned politician Madan Puri dies. Years ago, Devanand’s best friend was murdered during a riot allegedly orchestrated by Madan Puri.

Nonetheless, State secretariat passes an order to all District collectors, to keep National flag at “half-mast” over their offices, to mourn the death of the Mr.Madan Puri.

DevAnand sees this news on TV, gets angry with such mockery of our national flag. He decides not to goto office next morning and keeps the door key of rooftop with himself. He is confident, “no formal punishment can be given to me, because this was not part of my official duty. At most Collector sahib will reprimand me informally but I don’t care because Madan Puri killed my best friend.

Do you think DevAnand has made the right decision? Yes/No/Why?

Answer keypoints

DevAnand made a wrong decision because:

  1. It prevents other staff members from carrying out the ‘official’ order from StateHQ.
  2. It puts his boss in an embarrassing position in front of the StateHQ.
  3. If Dev’s conscience doesn’t permit him carrying out a task, he should inform his boss. But running away with keys, without informing anyone = irresponsible.
  4. Such behavior is not expected from a good team player / a public servant.

Returning unspent money

DevAnand is running an NGO to help street children. He receives government grant of Rs.2 lakh rupees for a project to teach the “out of school” children, who work at tea-stalls, do boot-polishing etc. A year passes, but Dev managed to utilize only 50,000 rupees from the grant. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t convince many poor children or their families to join his NGO’s program.

As per the grant rules, Dev has to return all the unspent money back to government by the end of March 31st. But his colleague Pran suggests following:

  1. If we honestly return Rs.1.5 lakh back, then government officials will think we are amateur, ineffective NGOs and they’ll substantially reduce our grant for next year or even worse- they’ll not give us any project next time!
  2. We should take help of CA Prem Chopra to manipulate our account books and show majority of the grant was utilized for education.
  3. Many other NGOs do the same thing- there is no problem – nobody will raise any objection, as long as we give 20% of the grant to SDM in charge of this project.
  4. Although it sounds unethical but we won’t use this money for personal needs, we’ll use it on street children only. Hence our act is fully ethical and moral.

What should DevAnand do with the money?

Answer keypoints:

  1. “Because others are also doing it” – is never the valid justification to commit an unethical or criminal act.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right:
    1. Manipulating account books to keep the grant money.
    2. Bribing SDM to keep the grant money.
  3. The shelf life of lie and deception is very low- especially when manipulating the account books – ask Ramalinga Raju, ex-chief of Satyam.
  4. DevAnand was unable to use 75% of the grant money, it implies
  1. Dev didn’t try hard enough OR
  2. Government had exaggerated the amount of money required to educate the out of school children OR
  3. both

In anycase, If Dev keeps the unspent grant, government will continue pumping more money- other NGOs and the SDM will keep amassing wealth. Therefore, DevAnand should return the unspent grant back to the government.

Misleading for good purpose

DevAnand is the inspector in charge of Rampur Police station. The police station building is in dire need of repairs, but hasn’t received any grants for years. One day, a cyclone hits a nearby area, damaging most of the houses and shops. Although Dev’s police station gets partially damaged, but most of the building remain intact . Government sends a disaster assessment team to ascertain the level of damage and pay relief money. The DSP Mr. Pran, orders DevAnand to do following:

  1. Hire some laborers and destroy the remaining parts of your police station building.
  2. When disaster assessment team comes, you tell them building collapsed by the cyclone, and ask them to give priority in funding after all police station is one the most important public offices in a town.

Should DevAnand obey his boss’s order?

Answer keypoints
The shelf life of lie and deception is very low. Especially when many people are involved. In this case: laborers and any bystanders.
Both Dev and Pran are risking themselves to an unnecessary negative publicity and possible departmental inquiry and punishment for professional misconduct. Indeed police building needed repairs and should have been given a grant months ago, but three wrongs don’t make a right:

  1. Wanton destruction of a public building.
  2. Misleading the disaster assessment team.
  3. Police officer DevAnand spending his time and energy in such activity rather than doing rescue-relief-patrolling duty after the disaster.

Private matter of Public employee?

DevAnand is working as an under Secretary in the pension department. One day, his friend GuruDutt, an SBI PO, narrates following incident:

  1. For last two years, a retired Government employee Mr.Ashok Kumar is giving away 30% of his monthly pension to Mrs.Bindu Chopra every month through cheque.
  2. I found Mrs.Bindu Chopra happens to be the wife of Mr.Prem Chopra, a section officer in the pension office under you (DevAnand.)
  3. I feel something is fishy- may be this is part of a large bribe scam where senior citizens are forced to pay money to clear their pension files from Prem Chopra, and have to submit bribes in his wife’s account.

DevAnand visits Mr.Ashok Kumar’s house but he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, unable to give coherent answers. Frustrated DevAnand directly confronts Prem Chopra. But Prem says “Mr.Ashok Kumar was a friend of my father. He has no relatives or children and my wife Bindu has been taking care of him like daughter since a long time. Therefore, Mr.Ashok Kumar gives us money out of good will, so we can send our son to an expensive IIT coaching class @Kota, Rajasthan. Besides this is a personal family matter and none of your damn business.”

Do you think DevAnand made a blunder or was he merely performing an ethical duty?

Answer keypoints

Here, both GuruDutt and DevAnand has failed to act in responsible manner. Because:

  1. A banker must keep his clients’ data confidential, unless required by the law to disclose it.
  2. GuruDutt didn’t even wait to cross verify who else is giving money to Mrs.Bindu Chopra’s account. Because if there was a ‘large scale bribe scam’ then lot other senior citizens would be making payment to Bindu’s account, and not just Mr.Ashok Kumar alone.
  3. Even in that situation, Gurudutt had to consult his boss within his own bank first. He cannot go around giving informal tips to outsiders. This is an unethical act for a banker.
  4. DevAnand too acted in hasty manner. First, he starts ‘investigation’ based on an informal tip from a banker who is not supposed to tip him in the first place. He should have consulted the vigilance department before moving further.
  5. Second, Dev Anand confronts Prem Chopra, without any hardcore evidence. When you’re holding a public office, you can’t go around accusing people in such haste. It breaks the office discipline, destroys the staff morale and allows the guilty person to cover his tracks.

Political neutrality

Prem Chopra, a civil society activist, has launched a mass-movement to change Prime-ministerial form of government to presidential form of government. Dev Anand is an undersecretary in the PMO. Before joining civil service, he had done Ph.D on the demerits of presidential form of government. He is invited by a news channel for prime-time debate. The newschannel anchor, Mr.Arnab Goswami assures DevAnand following:

  1. It’ll be only an educational-intellectual debate among scholars.
  2. No politicians from ruling or opposition party are invited in our show.
  3. You’re invited in your capacity as a scholar in political science and not as a bureaucrat.

Should DevAnand accept Arnab Goswami’s invitation for news-debate?

Answerkey point:

No. Because bureaucrats should not voice their opinion about political matters on public platform. Even if no politician is invited, some other scholar/participant/anchor might raise points in favour or against the ruling party during the debate, and Dev will find himself in a political minefield.

Political neutrality Part.2

To curtail the mounting fiscal deficit, Finance Minister Pran Chindu decides to merge agriculture ministry with forest ministry; coal ministry with oil ministry and reduce personnel in the central services by 30%. But opposition party is hardly raising any objection –they are occupied with onion price rise issue. Media is too busy covering MS Dhoni’s new hairstyle.

DevAnand, an employee in the Cabinet secretariat feels both Opposition party and media have failed to perform their ethical duty to inform citizens about matters of public interest. Therefore, he starts writing anonymous blogs and tweets to inform public about the negative consequences of Chindu’s austerity measures. Is DevAnand doing the right thing?

Answer key points:

  • No. DevAnand is not doing the right thing.
  • Role of public servant is to obey the will of the community- articulated through the elected members including the said Finance Minister.
  • Public servant has to remain politically neutral. Dev is crossing that Laxman-Rekha by his anonymous blogs.

Salary hike vs Team spirit

DevAnand has been serving as the Chief fire officer in city for over 3 years. Because of his efficient management, there were very few fire incidents, no lives were lost and property damage was minimum. He enjoys almost a celebrity like status in local media and city dwellers. As the election year comes, Mayor Pran, with an aim to garner goodwill among voters, frames a budget with 10% pay raise to fire bridge staff and 25% pay raise for the Chief fire Officer. Should DevAnand accept it or not/Why?

Answer key points:

  1. Firefighting is a team work. Team leader must display fairness and equity.
  2. If Dev accepts 25% raise, it could promote his image as an aloof, insensitive, self-serving boss. Staff may not follow his lead with same enthusiasm afterwards.
  3. Exemplary leadership is critical to encouraging ethical behavior in government organizations.
  4. Therefore, Dev should not accept more than what is being offered to other employees of Fire brigade. (10%).

Holding Charity Auctions in the Office

Pran, the bank employee, approaches Bank Manager DevAnand and says following:

  1. My child is suffering from blood cancer. I don’t have health insurance policy and my salary is insufficient to meet these medical expenses.
  2. But over the years, I’ve been collecting autographed bats and balls of various cricketers.
  3. I seek your permission to hold a charity auction in the office. I’ll also send fliers to clients of our bank. Everyone is welcome to bid for these bats and balls, so I can raise money for the medical treatment of my child.

Three other bank employees-Prem Chopra, Madan Puri and Ranjith overhear this conversation. They also inform DevAnand – indeed Pran’s financial situation is very bad and his child will die if the treatment is not done on time, therefore permission should be given to hold this charity auction.

Should Dev give permission or not?

Answer keypoints:

  1. No. Because some members may informally feel pressured to give money -Especially Pran’s juniors and subordinates.
  2. It might create a feeling of alienation between employees who bid and those who don’t.
  3. Next time another employee will try to do the same, may be with a trivial reason e.g. I’m willing to auction t-shirts autographed by filmstars to repay the last EMI of my home loan, allow me to hold auction in the office. And if Dev says no that time, it might create an impression Dev is biased towards certain employees- staff morale goes down.
  4. Therefore, it is best to keep auctions and other money raising activities out of the workplace irrespective of their noble aims.

Spouse in the same office

DCP DevAnand marries Sub inspector Rosie. In the office, Rosie doesn’t directly report to DevAnad but Dev has responsibility for signing off on her annual evaluation. Although Dev doesn’t give any preferential treatment to Rosie but one of her colleague, Prem Chopra, complained several times to the DIG Pran: “Dev saab always gives highest ratings to his wife and I’m always given average ratings despite my best performance in criminal investigations.“

DIG conducts inquiry, doesn’t find anything against DevAnand. Later Dev officially reprimands Prem Chopra for this unprofessional behavior.

Frustrated Prem Chopra narrates this incident to his wife Bindu. Bindu decides to take matters in her own hands, writes an anonymous email to the local press, informing how Rosie hasn’t legally divorced her first husband Marco, yet she is staying with DCP DevAnand and gives vivid details of their “adulterous” live-in relationship.

Rita reporter, an expert on such masala news, starts giving ball by ball commentary in her newspaper about Rosie’s past by interviewing her college friends, neighbors, relatives etc. Everybody in the town starts gossiping about this. Dev asks his IT expert friend GuruDutt to investigate. GuruDutt digs out that email originated from Prem Chopra’s home computer.What should DevAnand do:  Reprimand Prem Chopra once more?  Suspend him for indiscipline? Sue him for defamation? Is doing nothing an option?

Answer key points:

  1. Doing nothing is not a viable option since situations like this only fester and become more problematic.
  2. It is never a good practice for a public official to have a relative in a subordinate position. Despite efforts to avoid perceived acts of favoritism, sooner or later the official will find himself being accused of an inappropriate action. Therefore, Police and Military organizations often have anti-fraternization policies. (e.g. As per the US Air Force rules, one of the couple has to quit from the service.)
  3. This situation is all about the perception of favoritism. The perception may or may not be true whether DevAnand is giving preferential treatment to Rosie during annual performance evaluation.
  4. To prevent this from happening, DevAnand needs to stop chasing Prem Chopra and take steps to get his wife posted in another office, or seek his own transfer to another office.
  5. Last but not least, the DevAnand should put to rest the question of the legality of his marriage to avoid future accusations.

Private endorsement by Public Official

Prem Chopra runs a company that offers private security guards, CCTV, burglary alarm and other security devices.

DCP DevAnand learns that everytime after a theft or robbery takes place, Police Inspector Pran advices the victim and bystanders to install security devices from Prem Chopra’s company to make their home and shops secure from criminals. Pran even tells them “When you goto Prem Chopra’s office, tell him I’ve sent you, he’ll give you special discount.

Dev confronts Pran about this matter. Pran justifies his action by saying:

  1. Yes, I take money for Prem Chopra to endorse his security products for homes and offices.
  2. No, I’m not doing anything unethical because
    1. I use this money to pay my informers and keep a check on criminal elements. I don’t spent this money on myself or my family.
    2.  Even municipal buses and railway-wagons have advertisements, then why is an endorsement by a city official unethical or illegal?
  3. Besides, Prem Chopra’s security devices are very effective at preventing burglary.

Should DevAnand permit Pran to continue this endorsement activity? Yes/No/Why?

Answer keypoints

  1. Advertisement on bus / railway wagon is not same as a public official promoting a brand. Because those bus/railway ads don’t interfere with vehicle’s primary function of transporting persons from one place to another. But when a public official promotes a brand, he is spending part of his office time and energy for private gain rather than serving the citizen.
  2. If Dev permits Pran, then other staff members will also start similar marketing. Thus part of the office-time will diverted to selling products rather than solving crime
  3. Might even lead to internal rivalries about who is earning more commissions.
  4. Citizens may feel informal pressure to buy such products fearing their file / matter will not be cleared by the public officials otherwise.
  5. Endorsements of commercial products by public officials can easily result in an unethical situation: sharing financial gain through bribes, kickbacks, or postemployment opportunities for government officials.

In short, it will open a Pandora’s box. Therefore, DevAnand should order Pran to stop this activity at once.

Man of Word or Man of Money?

DevAnand is a brilliant maths teacher in a private English medium school in Ahmedabad and gets yearly package of Rs.3 lakhs. Another school at Baroda offers him package of Rs. 3.5 lakhs. Dev makes a verbal commitment to the Baroda school principle, “Sure,I’ll join your school from next month.“

But when Dev submits his resignation to A’bad school, its Principle Mr.Pran requests him to stay and offers new package of Rs.3.8 lakhs. Should Dev take back his resignation? yes/no/why?

Answer keypoints

  • from ethical perspective, even verbal acceptance = contract. And contract must be honored.
  • Even if Pran’s counteroffer is higher, Dev has a moral obligation to remain consistent with his original intention (of joining Baroda school).

Courage with a price tag

(Copy pasting a news report from TheHindu)

December 7, 2012, Chandigarh.

Robanjit Kaur, 23-year-old daughter of ASI Ravinderpal Singh was returning home after her IELTS coaching class when Shiromani Akali Dal leader Ranjit Singh Rana and his goons started teasing her. She called up her father Mr.Ravinderpal Singh, an ASI with Punjab Police.

When her father arrived and confronted the group, a heated argument followed and Rana pulled out his pistol and began firing at both father and daughter. Both received bullet injuries and father collapsed.

Even as Ms. Kaur struggled to shift her father into a vehicle to take him to hospital, Rana and his gang returned with a rifle and shot Ravinderpal Singh again in full public view.

Ms. Kaur said to media, “Rana kept kicking and hitting us in full public glare. I cried and pleaded for help but everyone ran away. Even when the ambulance came, I had to lift my father into it as no one came to help me.”

End of news.

A Sociologist remarks: “Our government has not set up a system to encourage civilians to fight against criminal acts. Why should someone risk injury or their life to save another if one’s life or livelihood is endangered? Government needs to enact a new scheme named after you know who, to reward any civilian with Rs.10 lakh, a government job and a 3 BHK flat, if he prevents a crime in a public place.”

Do you believe announcing big financial rewards to pedestrians who standup against a criminal, will change the situation? Does or can courage have a price tag? Yes/No/Why?

Answer keypoints

  1. Indeed an act of courage should be rewarded and applauded.
  2. But running a scheme with Rs.10 lakh and a government job, might lead to vigilante mobs of unemployed youth, roaming around with hokey sticks and baseball bats looking for a crime to happen (or orchestrating a crime by themselves) in order to get the money and the job.
  3. In the given case, goons were armed with pistols and rifles. No unarmed civilian can be expected to fight with them. In future, might lead to a situation where a poor man intentionally jumps in the fight, knowing fully well that he’ll be killed- but only doing so his family can get Rs.10 lakh.
  4. Maintenance of law and order is state’s responsibility not civilians’. Money is better spent on recruiting more policemen and judges.

For more on case studies & revision notes, visit Mrunal.org/ETHICS