Principle 6: A culture of responsible and ethical decision making is promoted
The board, together with the CEO, sets the tone for ethical decision making throughout the public sector body. Decision making is informed, consistent, balances the requirements of multiple stakeholders and is responsible and ethical. The public interest and the Public Sector Code of Ethics are applied as the benchmark for individual conduct and open and accountable governance.
The Code of Ethics and codes of conduct
Code of Ethics
The Public Sector Commissioner establishes the Code of Ethics for the public sector within Commissioner’s Instruction No. 7 – Code of Ethics. The Code applies to all public sector boards and consists of three principles that set minimum standards of conduct and integrity:
- Personal integrity
We act with care and diligence and make decisions that are honest, fair, impartial, and timely, and consider all relevant information.
- Relationships with others
We treat people with respect, courtesy and sensitivity and recognise their interests, rights, safety and welfare.
We use the resources of the State in a responsible and accountable manner that ensures the efficient, effective and appropriate use of human, natural, financial and physical resources, property and information.
Codes of conduct
Codes of conduct are an important tool for articulating the behaviour expected of board members. Commissioner’s Instruction No. 8 – Codes of conduct and integrity training requires all public sector bodies, including boards, to have a code of conduct. This code of conduct must be consistent with the Code of Ethics, discussed above.
Board members should be expected to model behaviours articulated in codes of conduct, including in their relationships with other board members, the chair, staff, members of the public, the media, the minister's office and other stakeholders.
Board members should become familiar with the code of conduct as soon as possible, ideally during the induction process, and should subsequently sign a master copy of the code of conduct to acknowledge that it has been read and understood. The signed master copy should be kept on record.
More information and a code of conduct template for boards can be found on the Commission’s website, including the Conduct guide for public sector boards and committees.
Gifts, benefits and hospitality
While offering and accepting gifts, benefits and hospitality is common in everyday life, there can be good reasons for public sector board members to decline to accept such offers. The Western Australian community trusts public officers, including board members, to perform their duties impartially and with integrity. Occasionally board members may be offered gifts, benefits or hospitality as a consequence of undertaking official duties. Usually these will be a token of appreciation and carry no expectation. In some cases accepting a gift, benefit or hospitality could give the impression an officer will favour a particular person or organisation when making decisions. This may not be the intention, but perceptions do matter.
Perceptions are also important when a board provides a gift, benefit or hospitality. Board members need to be mindful and use public resources responsibly, ensuring decisions to provide gifts, benefits or hospitality are defensible and further the conduct of official business of the body or government.
Dealing with gifts, benefits and hospitality is not straightforward given the different operating contexts for each public sector body. It is, however, important that they are dealt with in a practical way to minimise integrity risks. For these reasons, board members need a good understanding of when the acceptance of a gift, benefit or hospitality is appropriate and when it is not.
All board members are encouraged to read Gifts, benefits and hospitality – A guide to good practice, available on the ICG website. This guide assists public authorities to identify the risks associated with gifts, benefits and hospitality and consider how they can minimise those risks through sound policies, transparent record keeping, communication and review activities.
Further information can be found in the resources section
Operational policies and manuals
Boards should endeavour to avoid making decisions in isolation. Decisions should be articulated through policy to:
- prevent the need to revisit similar issues
- ensure consistency of approach
- reinforce the practice of decision making according to agreed criteria.
Operational policies should be developed where decisions are made by the board. These policies should articulate the criteria used for decision making and the rationale for the board’s position.
Several supporting policies and processes assist board members to exercise their governing duties. Policies and processes for each should be defined and regularly reviewed, taking into account the following considerations:
- Codes of conduct clarify expectations concerning appropriate behaviour and should be developed. Evaluating past or potential actions against the code of conduct provides guidance for board members.
- How to raise a grievance regarding board matters, including an alternative to raising the matter with the board chair in the event the matter relates to them.
- Reporting misconduct.
- Internal and external communication channels for the minister's office, staff, the media and other stakeholders (consistent with roles) should be identified and respected.
- Policies for conflicts of interest and 'related party' transactions should be developed. Registers of standing conflicts of interest and 'related party' transactions should be maintained; processes for declaring and minuting disclosures, recording standing conflicts of interest and quarantining papers should be established.
- The expectation to attend and prepare for board meetings should be clearly articulated.
- Appropriate insurance, including directors’ and officers’ liability insurance for board members.
- Use of agency facilities and resources.
Individual policies may be presented in the format of:
- the name of the policy
- the date enacted
- the date of most recent revision
- a brief description of the policy
- the specific guidance provided by the policy
- the rationale for the policy
- documents relevant to the policy (e.g. an approval form).
Individual policies should be collated together in a single policy manual.
Accountable and ethical decision making
The board exerts authority through effective decision making. Governing boards have a clear decision making role, and while guidance provided by advisory boards carries no obligation for action, deliberations resulting in the provision of advice are still decisions.
Matters referred to the board for decision making should be consistent with the role of the board, staff and responsible minister. A board's information requirements should be clearly defined and information delivered in a timely manner in order to assist the board in making informed decisions. In some situations, the board or individual board members may need access to independent and external professional advice to perform their duties appropriately.
Boards are encouraged to consider and reflect on four questions when making decisions. These questions are known as ‘First Steps’, a checklist to assist users to decide on the most appropriate course of action. ‘First Steps’ is based on the guiding principles of honesty, transparency, diligence and consistency. The questions are:
- Am I doing the right thing?
- How would others judge my actions?
- How could my actions impact on others?
- Should I discuss this with someone else?
The Public Sector Commission has developed an accountable and ethical decision making (AEDM) training program to support public sector employees to make accountable and ethical decisions. The training helps public sector employees find answers to accountability questions that may arise in their daily work and explain the standards of behaviour expected of them. Board chairs are required to provide or arrange for AEDM training to be provided to members or employees of the board.
Public sector bodies often have multiple stakeholders and the interests of each need to be considered by the board. Stakeholder issues need to be taken into account in the context of directors' responsibilities to act in the best interests of the public sector body. Engaging and understanding the public sector body’s stakeholders will improve the quality of the board's decision making and stakeholder's acceptance of board decisions.
Stakeholders are identified and understood
A public sector body’s stakeholders can be numerous and diverse. Stakeholders include the public, shareholders or owners (e.g. the minister), government agencies, industry members, not-for-profit organisations, staff members and others who affect or are affected by the public sector body’s services or decisions. Differentiation between the types of stakeholders can assist the public sector body to navigate the multiple (and sometimes competing) desires of the various groups. It is important for a public sector body to identify the full range of stakeholders and understand their perspectives. The board should ensure the views of the public sector body’s stakeholders are understood.
The board should ensure the understanding of stakeholders is applied through their decision making and strategy development.
Engaging with stakeholders
A range of mechanisms are available to engage with stakeholders, including surveys, forums, advisory groups and direct representation on the board. The appropriate approach for engaging stakeholders should be determined in relation to the nature of the individual decision, level of required stakeholder involvement and level of stakeholder interest.
The minister is a key stakeholder. The board should ensure responsibilities, reporting protocols and lines of reporting with the minister’s office are clearly articulated.
Stakeholders should be aware the board exists and have a mechanism for contacting the board. Staff members of the public sector body should also have access to information about the board.
Quick review – Decision making
- Is there a current and comprehensive code of conduct for board members and a master copy signed by each member?
- Are members familiar with the code of conduct and is adherence reviewed regularly?
- Are members familiar with the gifts, benefits and hospitality policy and register?
- Are mechanisms in place for engaging and communicating with stakeholders and appropriately considering the positions in decision making?
- Is strategy alignment considered as a factor in every board decision?
- Is the board clear on its role in setting the strategic direction?
- Does management regularly report progress to the board on resource planning and management for the public sector organisation?
Further information is available under good governance guides.
Page last updated 23 May 2017