Public Ethics And Risk Management: The Kenyan Experience

This article appeared in the IRM Magazine, 1st issue of 2016.

Ethics and risk management are synergistic theories in efficient public service delivery


Ethics and risk management are synergistic theories in efficient public service delivery. It is argued that good risk management is achieved when there are good ethical pratices.

Ethics is a risk management strategy. It is generally defined as a system of guidelines for appropriate conduct towards others aiming to comply with certain rules and regulations to achieve a particular result

Public ethics is related to risk management in the sense that it governs the threats posed by statutory legislation or responding to public outcry from institutional collapses[1].

In the public sector, an ethical risk management strategy concerns the infrastructure that promotes ethical conduct, that is, the directives and supports that both manage risks associated with lack of ethical practices.

Historically, Kenya has faced a myriad of obstacles in risk management in public institutions. These problems have verge from corruption, misappropriation of funds, lack of strong and capable regulatory mechanisms and poor leadership.

The promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 acknowledged the importance of risk management in gave rise to the laws, rules and regulations which established various regulatory and compliance institutions. These laws and institutions seek to regulate governance amongst public offices and their officers. With time, these risk management methods have gradually filled in the previous lacuna in public finance, leadership and management.

Risk Management KenyaA review of the laws and regulations in Kenya indicates that risk management in public institutions is intertwined with ethics. Hence efficient risk management requires sufficient and proper ethics and vice versa. It requires that a public officer should diligently offer the relevant government services failure of which he or she may suffer disciplinary action.

[1] Ronald Francis & Arona Armstrong ‘ Ethics as a risk management strategy: The Australian experience’ Available at> Accessed on 5th April 2016

The Constitution of Kenya 2010

During the clamour for a new constitution one of the vital issues discussed was public ethics and accountability.  This featured more often when views were received by the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission was collecting views from the public domain. Over the years there were a number of cited examples of politicians and civil servants who had been responsible for the collapse of many public institutions.

The Constitution categorizes risk management in two facets namely:

  • Management of resources:

    In its provisions, the Constitution provides for corporate and financial accountability, leadership, integrity and good governance amongst its major resources being, public money, public officers/offices and citizens. One foreseeable risk was lack of good governance and good leadership. In its Chapter 6 and Article 10, the Constitution has raised a higher level of risk management by acknowledging integrity and accountability as some of Kenya’s national values.  It provides inter alia

  • Management of stakeholders:

    Articles 10 provide for mandatory public participation in both the national and county level of government. The Constitution demonstrates that decision making should be all inclusive and in the interest of the public.

In addition to the above constitutional provisions, pieces of legislation such as the Public Officer Ethics Act, the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Act have in-built mechanisms to deal with issues of corruption, ethics amongst government officers and a fortiori, risk management.

This act give a broad and almost exhaustive definition of who a public officer is and thus all whom the code of conduct and ethics govern. The also provides for various ethics and risk management commission for specific public officers. These commissions under the umbrella of the Act set up specific Codes of Conduct and ethics for these public officers. For example, the Committee of the National Assembly is tasked with regulating ethics amongst members of the National Assembly, the president of the Republic of Kenya, the speaker, the attorney general, members of the Electoral Commission and the Public Service Commission, controller and auditor general and the directors of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

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Others include the Public Service Commission which is responsible for regulating discipline amongst public officers, the Judicial Service Commission which is responsible for judicial officers, the Parliamentary Service Commission which is responsible for public officers serving in parliament, Teachers Service Commission responsible for registered teachers and the Defense Council responsible for the armed forces.

Summarily, risk management is the systematic approach to mitigating uncertainty by way of identifying, assessing, understanding and application of regulatory mechanisms. It supports the overall vision, mission and objectives of an institution. It directly impacts on the uncertainty of future events as well as outcomes.

Risk management in public institutions revolves around decision making that contributes to the achievement and implementation of the public body’s mandate. It affects public officers individually and the institution’s functionality.  This is so because it assists with decisions such as the reconciliation of evidence, costs with benefits and expectations of investing limited public resources, governance and public control structures needed to support due diligence, responsible risk taking, innovation, integrity, transparency and accountability.



What is evident from the Kenyan situation post 2010 constitution is that while legislation has been enacted some prior to its coming into force and other after it is clear the impact average and gradual.  With devolution both empirical and anecdotal evidence suggest that unethical conduct has been devolved and that despite the best intentions and effort of regulatory institutions, unethical public conduct thrives and public mistrust increases.

The main challenge faced by public institutions is therefore lack of knowledge and technical know-how on implementation and enforcement of legislation.


Public institutions should enhance ethics compliance in their functions by creating programmes charged with process and control improvement as well as ensuring compliance with regulations, laws and internal policies. This should not only engage the public office staff but also the wider scope of procurement stakeholders to lodge a lasting risk culture.

These programmes should range from creating ethical awareness and training programmes amongst staff to inter agency collaboration such as with law enforcement to tackle unwarranted conduct and offences that affect efficient public service delivery.


The inclusion of the regulatory provisions on public officers’ ethics, public financial management and establishment of regulatory public commissions are informed by an emerging consciousness that Kenyans stand to suffer if the risks attached to public service are not properly managed and mainstreamed as a way of getting Kenyans irrespective of their status to live a positive and values driven life.

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