The famous quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” often misattributed to Edmund Burke, encapsulates the essence of civic duty—although he never actually said these words. John Stuart Mill’s 1867 address at the University of St. Andrews more accurately reflects this sentiment: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.

In Guernsey’s close-knit community, this is particularly relevant regarding misconduct within the public sector and aligns with the Nolan Principles of public life:1

  1. Individual Impact: Actions by government employees significantly influence governance and public trust, which is currently at an all-time low.
  2. Professional Responsibility: Public servants must act ethically, addressing misconduct and maintaining integrity in line with the principles of selflessness and honesty. My family’s documented experience shows we have a long way to go, and I am not alone.
  3. Preserving Public Trust: Active accountability is crucial for protecting the trust placed in government institutions by the community.
  4. Avoiding Complacency: Complacency towards wrongdoing can erode ethical standards, contradicting the principles of integrity and accountability. A sore left to fester seldom improves.
  5. Collective Strength: When ethical citizens unite against misconduct, they strengthen governance, promoting transparency and objectivity. Their actions benefit society as a whole.
  6. Consequences of Inaction: Ignoring unethical behaviour undermines community trust and cohesion, affecting the effectiveness of governance. It is a ‘quick-fix’, diametrically opposed to the well-being of society. It creates the mindset that there is little point in trying to improve things as the ‘malfeasances’ are entrenched.
  7. Role Modelling: Those who stand against wrongdoing exemplify decency and become catalysts for change. Rather than being criticised, they should be celebrated. One should not fear for one’s housing licence, job, or social standing because of speaking out.
  8. Politicians’ obligations: They must find the courage to do likewise: to question, to require answers, and to use the power the public has bestowed upon them for the public good. While some may already do this, all politicians must uphold these principles.
  9. Legal and Judicial Accountability: Additionally, Guernsey, with its independent legal system and jurisdiction, requires its Courts, Law Officers and Jurats to conform to these high standards as well.
  10. Perception of Bias: Public servants in decision-making roles must avoid affiliations that could compromise their impartiality or the perception of it. Transparency and accountability are paramount; therefore, they must maintain clear boundaries to prevent any conflict of interest.

Inspired by Mill’s address and by the Nolan Principles, a proper approach never encompasses hiding wrongdoing: transparency and accountability are paramount because they are fundamental to public office.

Accordingly, Guernsey needs a new breed of politician in the forthcoming elections. Irrespective of their political alignment they must espouse and act on principles of forcing decency and accountability from our civil service – the service that we pay for, after all.

Lastly: a message to those considering working for the government: if you cannot accept, enact, and embody the above, don’t apply for a public service job; Guernsey cannot afford you. If you already work for the civil service and find yourself sliding into poor conduct through peer pressure or other reasons – stop and reverse; accountability, transparency and the ease with which the public can disseminate details of your inappropriate behaviour in the modern world will catch up with you. And you may find yourself without a job, a pension and shunned by those who paid and trusted you. Or worse.

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