There are certain parameters to be taken into consideration when a person, who declared a conflict of interest, is allowed to be in the group that makes a certain decision, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials.

In ACC’s recently published ‘Model Guideline on Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Sector 2017’, it is stated that the management or committee should weigh the nature of the relationship between the individual or the firm that could be affected by government action and the public official who declared the conflict of interest.

ACC’s assistant integrity officer for Department of Prevention and Education, Sangay Lhamo, said that the effect the decision or other action would have on the financial interest of the person or firm involved should also be weighed. “One of the important parameters is the sensitivity of the matter. It depends on the integrity of the individual even if they declare a conflict of interest.”

She defined conflict of interest as a situation where there is a collision of private and public interest causing tension between these two competing priorities.

According to the model guideline, an employee with an interest can participate in a decision if a determination is made that the interest will not affect the employee’s judgment.

It also states that it should take into consideration the nature and importance of the public official’s role in the matter, including the extent to which the official is called upon to exercise discretion in the matter.

Sangay Lhamo said that besides waiving of conflict of interest, recusal and divestiture are two other ways for managing the declared interest. “Recusal is when a public official declares a conflict of interest and the management do not allow the official to participate in the decision making. The divestiture is transferring the private interest.”

She said conflicts of interest could be actual, potential and perceived. “One of the main factors for corruption is a conflict of interest,” she said.  Failure to declare a conflict of interest is an offence under section 63 of Anti-Corruption Act 2011.

Sangay Lhamo said that there is no common consensus on when to declare the conflict of interest. “Conflict of interest is not necessarily a problem but having the conflict of interest and doing nothing about it is. The important thing is before sitting in the panel, the concerned committee needs to advocate those members sitting on the panel.”

The chairperson of ACC, Kinley Yangzom, said that just by knowing someone, one does not have to declare a conflict of interest.

She said that in such a case, the human resource committee couldn’t take a decision as they take decisions for employees, colleagues and superiors. “But when you know a person and when you know that relationship with the person is going to affect your decision, you should declare a conflict of interest.”

Sangay Lhamo said that an organisation, depending on the risk and vulnerability, should come up with specific management policies for the public organisation. “Our integrity needs to be preserved and public confidence maintained.”

She said that as a public servant, safeguarding oneself from false allegations is possible by the declaration of conflict of interest, which will only help to protect oneself.

Rinchen Zangmo