Compliance in the Public Sector (part 1 of 3)

Date: 23 / February / 2020
Compliance Notes - 7


Frequently, in training courses and workshops, we are questioned about whether compliance is a concept applicable only to the private sector or whether there is something that we could call compliance for the public sector. Although calling compliance seems to be a purely semantic matter (and advocating for compliance without adjectives is not the purpose of these notes), the following lines are intended to explore the idea of ​​compliance in the public sector.

Obviously, the private and public sectors differ from each other and, as a consequence of their nature and their tasks, are subject to different regulations. Thus, while there are clear differences in their structures, functions and objectives, there are also similarities as organizational ecosystems that are, such as the fact that achieving their objectives requires good management, while complying with the regulations or "rules of the road". game ”applicable. In addition, both in the private and public sectors, it is not only sought to achieve the objectives effectively, and at the same time comply with the law and avoid sanctions for improper acts; It is also about doing it in accordance with general ethical principles established in the rules, codes of ethics and codes of conduct. And this goal of compliance is precisely what compliance is all about.

Obviously, the implementation of compliance systems in the public sector will have to take into account the particularities of public organizations, but if we adopt an organizational analysis perspective based on systems and processes, we can also see that some of the strategies to implement compliance systems in the private sector they are also useful in public organizations.

Different Approaches

The development and implementation of a compliance system in public sector organizations is not just about having new laws, it is much more than promulgating new rules; It is about establishing management mechanisms that allow the regulatory framework that already exists to be applied well and, above all, to develop integrity models, training strategies, process transparency, good governance and effective leadership.

Laws and the regulatory framework in which public sector organizations operate have a limited scope to guarantee the conduct of individuals within those organizations. Misconduct and improper acts often have their origin in poor management (of internal controls, conflicts of interest, hotlines, training and education, among others), in the absence of personnel ethically competent and in the absence of genuinely committed leadership.

Furthermore, unlike the private sector, the practice of carrying out risk analysis is much less frequent in the public sector, hence the controls established in many cases have been designed from a purely deontological approach (which is not a negative thing). ) which may be of little relevance if these are not based on an understanding of the potential risks faced by the organization in real life. The implementation of an effective compliance system in public sector organizations must, necessarily, also be based on an analysis of non-compliance risks tailored to the organization in question.

Hence, the objective of implementing a compliance system in public sector organizations is not necessarily to avoid legal responsibilities (administrative, civil or criminal) but also to genuinely create an ethical culture vertically and horizontally in the organization. This is as relevant as in the private sector, but in the public sector it becomes even more important as public service is an activity that requires objectivity to serve the general interests; this over and above any particular or group interest.

 The OECD recommends that what is successful in international best practices is to move from an approach based only on standards (rules based approach) to one based on public integrity (integrity based ethics); We must move from a traditional merely punitive approach to a management approach that is preventive, that is, based on risk analysis and controls anchored in the training and training of the principles and values ​​of public service that over time give way to a culture organizational integrity in each institution. The OECD states that: “Traditional approaches based on creating more standards, stricter enforcement and stronger compliance have shown limited effectiveness. A strategic and sustainable response against corruption is public integrity”.

Hence, a fundamental element for the existence of an effective compliance program in public sector organizations is the genuine commitment and will from the highest levels of leadership, both from the public sector as a whole and from the leaders of each one. of public organizations or institutions, this is political will and commitment. Public servants must lead by example based on the hierarchy of values ​​and principles of service to the general good, to the public interest, above any particular interest. In this sense, an ethical approach based on public integrity requires the training of ethically competent officials.

Public integrity

The concept of integrity is a concept used a lot discursively both by politicians and public servants to mean different things, but the basic premise of this concept is based on honesty. Integrity emphasizes moral consistency, honesty, the direct correspondence between professed values ​​and a person's decisions and behaviors, which persist even in adverse decision-making situations, evidently helping decision-makers to resolve ethical dilemmas.

For the OECD, public integrity “refers to the consistent alignment with, and compliance with, shared values, principles and ethical standards, to maintain and give priority to public interests, over private interests, in the sector. public". Hence, a compliance system in the public sector should start from the strengthening of public integrity through permanent ad hoc training and training on the functions and responsibilities of officials to instill the values ​​and principles of public service.

The tasks that emerge from this approach are the role of leadership and training to strengthen the motivation of public servants in the advantages of performing their work with integrity, with the purpose of making this way of acting an organizational lifestyle, a ethical culture that guides public service.


OECD, OECD Council Recommendations on Public Integrity, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2017.

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