Ethics Case Study: You are posted as a senior officer in forest department. Your office deals with granting clearances to new projects. Your son has recently started a new project where he wants to set up a new factory in a forest area. This would involve clearing some area of district through which forest passes. The government has presently been not giving clearances to such projects as it has been emphasizing on forest conservation. Your son asks you to get the clearances done from your department. You have always been an upright officer and have not taken any benefit of the post held by you. However, this project is important for your son as you want him to get settled. Will you use your authority to get the project cleared? What are the ethical conflicts that arise in the case? What are the options that are available to you? Discuss them with their merits and demerits. (150 W/ 10 M)

Mentor’s Comment:

The case study has been take in light of conflict of interest faced by public servants while holding public office. The case involves the following ethical concerns: Personal interests vs abeyance to principles of public life, firmness to government principles vs violating government rules for self gain, upholding personal principles vs comprising them for personal motives, nepotism vs respect to government policies, misuse of public post vs respect for the public office.

Further, discuss the various options available to deal with such situations with their merits and demerits and bring balanced conclusion.

Model Answer:

In the above case, the officer can get personal benefits if he gets the project cleared. However, it is against the policy of the government as it has been emphasizing on forest conservation in the area. Being an upright officer and being true to the public post that he holds, it is not advisable to use his authority to seek some benefits for his son. That would be impeach of public dutyand the defiance to the principles of public life.

The ethical conflicts that arise in above case are:

  1. Personal interests vs abeyance to principles of public life
  2. Firmness to government principles vs violating government rules for self gain
  3. Upholding personal principles vs comprising them for personal motives
  4. Nepotism vs respect to government policies
  5. Misuse of public post vs respect for the public office.

The various options along with their merits and demerits are discusses as:

  • Not giving clearance to the project: This option will uphold his image as an upright officer who doesn’t change his principles just merely for seeking some personal benefits. However, not giving clearance to his son’s project, he is risking his son’s career as this project is important for him in order to get him settled.
  • Granting approval to the project: This would be like impeaching of the government policies and the rules framed by it as it has been emphasizing on forest conservation. A public servant is expected to uphold government policies and not defy them. This will also free him from the tensions related to his son as he would get settled.
  • Making amendments in the project proposal: This would mean not getting the clearance get done directly but through some indirect means by making certain amendments and changes in the proposal. This way he will be saved from breach of public trust as he would be amending the project to suit the requirements of the government policy.
  • Getting the clearance done with help from seniors: He may himself not be involved directly in the project, but use his approach and contacts to get the work done. He may tell them that the project is important. As he has always been an upright and honest officer, his seniors and subordinates might favour him for this. But it is also possible that they may not give clearance.
  • Not being the authority in the project: As the project involves conflict of interest, he may ask somebody else to anlayse it and give approval or rejection. This way the project analysis will be done in a transparent manner and thus justice would be done.

Any public officer is expected to consider the interest of public office above his personal interests. The best course of action for the officer is to get himself out of the project as he might face conflict of interest. He should get the project analyses in a transparent manner by someone who doesn’t have personal benefits involved in the project. He should tell his son that he cannot favour the proposal if it is against law as it would be going against the government policies and comprising on the principles which he has upheld throughout all his life.

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