Definition: ‘Conflict of Interest is a term used to describe the situation in which a public official or fiduciary who, contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act for the benefit of the public or a designated individual, exploits the relationship for personal benefit.’
In certain relationships, individuals or the general public place their trust and confidence in someone to act in their best interests. When an individual has the responsibility to represent another person—whether as administrator, attorney, executor, government official, or trustee—a clash between professional obligations and personal interests arises if the individual tries to perform that duty while at the same time trying to achieve personal goals or gains.
Incompatibility of professional duties and personal interests has required the public sector and larger scale private sector companies to enshrine the concept and addressing of ‘Conflict of Interest’ in governing policies and in some cases legislation.
Conflicts of interest can exist in many forms in both our personal and professional lives and usually it is when we have contradictory obligations to both at the same time that an issue arises.
Conflict is not necessarily bad it is how we manage that conflict that is important. Often disclosure is the beginning step in addressing a perceived or actual bias. Policies and processes around our professional lives provide the opportunity of disclosure. As an example a Code of Conduct will require that conflicts are exposed and addressed. Conflicts of Interest can include but are not limited to the following:
- Where family or social relationship could compromise or influence a professional decision,
- Membership to a group/agency or collective or vocal personal opinion is in direct conflict with professional duty,
- Where professional duty and decision could result in personal gain.
Consider the 6 P’s when determining a perceived or actual Conflict of Interest
- Private interest
- Potential Benefit
- Public Scrutiny
Addressing conflict can involve:
- Notifying the relevant superiors and stakeholders as required under governing policy or legislation.
- Looking at ways of mitigating involvement between the competing priorities.
- Logging decisions made or limiting involvement in decisions where the conflict could be apparent.
Generally, a commonsense approach will determine how the matter is best negotiated. Most importantly as long as all parties are aware the situation exists, it is the responsibility of all parties to address the matter successfully.