Transparency International

This Anti-Corruption Helpdesk brief was produced in response to a query from one of Transparency International’s national chapters. The Anti-Corruption Helpdesk is operated by Transparency International and funded by the European Union

Query

Please provide an overview of different countries’ institutional models to oversee and enforce codes of conduct in the executive branch of government.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Overview of codes of conduct for cabinet members
    • Australia
    • Canada
    • Ireland
    • New Zealand
    • United Kingdom
    • United States
  3. Ministerial codes of conduct and other systems of enforcing accountability of cabinet members

Main points

  • Most ministerial codes are enforced on an inconsistent basis. Enforcement mechanisms are rarely independent and is often at the discretion of the Prime Minister who may or may not have incentives to ignore misconduct.
  • Disciplining ministers is difficult in many political contexts, and whether or not a country has a code of conduct specifically for the executive, rules that seek to discipline ministers need to be specific, aspirational and enforceable by an independent body.

Summary

This paper explores codes of conducts for ministers and public officials in the executive branch of government, with a focus on how and to what extent these are enforced.

The paper finds that, regardless of whether or not a country has established a ministerial code, it is critical that mechanisms for investigating and sanctioning ministerial and executive misconduct are independent of political interests.

Codes of conduct need to be both specific, aspirational and enforceable. Yet many ministerial codes are predominantly aspirational, often failing to hold ministers to account because they lack specificity and enforceability. Ministerial codes are rarely legally binding and their enforcement – particularly in Westminster style systems – tends to be at the discretion of the prime minister whose decisions may be influenced by political considerations or by differing notions of what constitutes ethical behavior.

Authors

Mathias Bak, tihelpdesk@transparency.org

Reviewer

Matthew Jenkins, Transparency International

Date

26/03/2021

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