Conflict of Interest

 

Should conflict of interest be allowed in rare cases if a public servant takes such decision on humanitarian grounds? If you are become an IAS officer, would you do the same? Substantiate. (200 Words)
‘Conflict of Interest’ is said to occur when a decision taken in the official capacity of an officer might also provide some benefit to the officer concerned or his family and friends.
Conflict of Interest is a major ethical concern, especially for bureaucrats. The  bureaucracy can fulfil its obligation only if it is trusted and respected by the people. Cases where Conflict of Interest is involved are viewed with suspicion even if the decision taken is justified on humanitarian, economic, or any other grounds. While forming the guidelines for the ‘collegium’ system in the Third Judges case, the Supreme Court observed, that ‘Justice must not only be done, but also must be seen as done.’ Which implies that in addition to the reality of any situation, the perception of it is equally important? More so in the realm of Public policy, where any suspicion can otherwise vitiate a perfectly sound decision.
Without prejudice towards honesty and integrity of any bureaucrat, it has to be kept in  mind that they are also human and their decision might be influenced by their own  interests even if unconsciously. Thus, the best and the ethical course of action in cases of conflict of interest would be to share information about the conflict of interest and recuse oneself from such a decision. Bureaucracy has a well-defined hierarchy and such recusal will mean that the superior authority could take a balanced decision.
In this way, the integrity of the process is maintained and the decision is not questioned on frivolous grounds. Any criticism or questioning is strictly on the merits of the decision.
What do you understand by ‘conflict of interest’? Do you think if a Professor who is guiding ten students in their doctoral thesis, has an affair with one of his students, will represent a case of conflict of interest? Justify your answer giving reasons. (150 Words)
Conflict of Interest is a situation where in an individual/organisation holding multiple interests finds it difficult to execute his duty without getting influenced by his personal interest. Such personal interest often leads to twisted and corrupted actions. Hence, an individual/ organisation exploits the situation for his personal benefit.
In case where, a Professor is having a personal affair with one of students actually represents case of “Conflict of Interest.”
Here the Professor can exploit his position to give extra benefit to particular student; also such kind of affair would bring distaste and partisanship feeling among other students which is not encouraging for them. Also the particular student will not be judged by her potential but will be prejudiced with Professor’s nearness.
This is also wrong on several accounts where neither Professor nor the student will be able to achieve their unbiased duty.
Hence, Conflict of Interest prohibits a public authority to execute his duty unbiasedly.
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Conflict of Interest is when an individual or entity is involved in an activity and there is also personal stake of the individual/entity in the activity which drives towards self-interest rather the holistic purpose. For example, recent BCCI president Srinivasan as its head who makes rules of the IPL also has stake in IPL as he or his relatives owning a team in IPL. This could drive person towards making rules in their own favour.
Professor having affair with one of students is personal interest whereas guiding all students equally in doctoral thesis is a job that must be done impartially. Here the rule of personal interest and holistic purpose clash holds well and can be said as conflict of interest.
In the eyes of management or authorities or outside world professor having personal interest is highlighted irrespective of whether he is showing bias towards the students or not. Conflict of interest is not based on whether there is any biased opinion or not but in the first place is there any scope for such partiality. It is not whether any crime is committed or not but is there any possibility of committing that is important and termed as conflict of interest.
Conflict of interest can be avoided by eliminating the part of ‘personal interest’ of individual/ entity. It is impartiality, equality and just activities that are an anti-dote for it which will be present when there is appointment of professor who has no personal interests in such a respected post.
Critically examine the view of the Supreme on the cases of “conflict of interest at high public offices. Do you think there should be a law to punish individuals involved in such cases? Comment. (200 Words)
SC in Tansi Land Deal case (2003) has recommended for ‘self-imposed discipline’, where persons in public life are expected to maintain high standards of probity. SC in A.K Kraipak case acknowledges the fact that it is difficult to show whether a person was biased in mind when he shows favors to others
Arguments supporting need for conflict of interest law to punish individuals:
  1. Cases of ‘conflict of interest’ increasing in public domain in India like appointment of Justice P. Sathasivam as Governor of Kerala
  2. Such punitive law will act as deterrent for officials while showing favors to individuals or industries in their official capacity
Arguments against:
  1. There is still debate on definition of ‘conflict of interest’. In cases of financial favour, it can be quantified but not in case of behavioural favour
  2. There are enough provision in current laws like in Anti-Corruption Law or cooling off period for officials
What should be done instead is to codify the principles which need to be followed by officials in cases of Conflict of Interest. For e.g. Canada has laid down a Conflict of Interest and Post Employment Code while in the UK, MPs need to declare Pecuniary interests in a ‘register of financial interest.’
In India, a start was made in the Rajya Sabha which has a register of interest. However, it is not public information. As a first step the register should be made public and a similar provision be made for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The principle should also be extended to include top officials in administration. Codified principles for dealing with Conflict of Interest, along with publicly declared interests by MPs, MLAs and top officials could have a salubrious impact on any misuse of official powers for personal interest.