Examine the causative factors and circumstances that lead to a conflict of interest for a public servant and suggest ways to resolve them. (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • One must explain what conflict of interest, why does it arise is, what are the causative factors that lead to such situations and what should be done to overcome it.
  • In brief, discuss the significance of understanding the conflict of interest in public services in general. 
  • In the main body, explain the concept of ‘conflict of interest’ – Conflict of interest situation arises when there is an actual or apparent conflict between public duty and private interest of a public official. In such a situation, an official’s private interests could improperly influence the performance of official duties. Conflict of interest reduces public trust and confidence in the integrity and impartiality of public functionaries.
  • Give reasons and situations that lead to conflict of interest.
  • Give measures to be adopted to avoid conflict of interest.
  • Discuss using examples to justify better.
  • Conclude that the moral obligation on public officials requires that the authority entrusted to them be exercised in the public interest. The trust in civil servants should be maintained for efficient and effective governance.

Answer:

A “conflict of interest” involves a conflict between the public duty and private interests of a public official, in which the public official has private-capacity interests which could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities.

In such a situation, the judgement of an individual could be impaired. A conflict of interest can exist in many different situations. Conflict of interest is seen as a moral issue and not strictly a legal one accompanied by criminal culpability in India so it is hardly surprising that blatant violations are virtually seen every day.

Example: a public official whose personal interests conflict with his/her professional position. Instances of the largest shareholder appointing himself as CEO, deciding his salary and then appointing his son to a key post and higher royalties to the parent company are some of the serious conflict of interest issues in India which don’t receive the necessary attention.

A judge giving judgement in a case involving his own family member is a case of conflict of interest.

Public servants face Conflict of Interest due to the nature of their work:

  • Personal vs Professional
    • This is the most common type of conflict of interest arising due to the conflict between personal and professional life.
    • Say, if a public servant is in charge of giving out contracts for a certain project and one of the applicants is relative or friend.
  • Conflicting Responsibility
    • Sometimes public servants are given additional charge, which might sometimes create a conflict of interest with the original line of duty.
  • Conflicting Organisations
    • Sometimes public servants are part of two separate organisations with apparently conflicting objectives and this might put them in a certain conflict of interest.
    • Many public servants also volunteer for NGOs during their service. NGOs and governmental organisation sometimes come at odds with each other.

Getting into a situation of conflict of interest is sometimes unavoidable and not a crime in itself if properly handled. The measures needed to resolve conflict of interest are:

  • Transparency
    • Declaring one’s conflict of interest to the concerned authorities is the best way.
    • It helps civil servant to come clean and concerned authorities can decide further.
  • Assure integrity
    • The concerned authority should be assured of integrity and willingness to serve no matter what the decision is made on the declaration.
  • Maintain objectivity
    • If given the chance to continue working on that case, work with objectivity.
  • Reduce discretion and codify procedure
    • There is a need for legislation to make non-disclosure of a conflict of interest punishable.
    • A private member’s bill (The Prevention and Management of Conflict of Interest Bill, introduced in 2012), the legislation ought to cover all arms of governance, including the judiciary, the legislature and the executive.
    • The recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Department of Personnel and Training, calling for early retirement if interested in post-retirement private service is established, needs to be implemented, besides increasing the mandatory cooling period to five years so that no undue influence can be exerted by the retired bureaucrat.
    • Also, the reasons for declining their requests for joining such firms need to be laid out clearly, to limit political concerns.
    • An open, public data platform enlisting all post-retirement appointments of civil servants will increase transparency

The priority must be to frame a modern law relating to conflict of interest, along the lines of what exists in the statute of the other countries like the United States and also ensure them to their work ensures ethical governance.

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