Managing Conflict of Interest in Public Sector
Md. Shahnewaj Patwari, Advocate, researcher and social activist :
In the recent students protest for safe road, the term conflict of interest was widely discussed as Mr. Shahjahan Khan besides holding the post of Minister, Ministry of Shipping also hold the post of Executive President, Bangladesh Road Transport Workers. Except this, he and his family have also transport business. His role in sheltering alleged miscreants transport workers has been severely critized. It is alleged that as a influential minister of the government and politician of the rulling party he work as an impediment in implementing disciplinary actions against transport workers.
It is pertinent to note that he is not alone rather many influencial politicians, high government officials, etc disrespect public interest to serve their personal gain. Hence, the term conflict of interest is relevant and management of conflict of interest is become so important. The term ‘conflict of interest’ defined as 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. Conflict of interest is a serious concern in the contemporary world and Bangladesh as well.
As we all know that serving the public interest is the main duty of a government and government offices. General people expects from a government and different government offices that it render their respective duties with integrity, in a transparent, neutral and fair way. It is not desirable that public officials compromise their neutrality and fairness to advantage their private interest and affiliations. Citizens’ trust and confidence over government institutions are seriously hampered if the conflict of interest of the government officials is not strictly managed. In government, individual private interest may tempt a government to enact specific law and policy and in public sectors, management and decisions of the officials may be compromised to give undue favor to any person or body with whom they have interest or affiliation. Although, a conflict of interest is not itself a corruption, however, if the conflicts between the private interests and official responsibilities of government officials is not strictly managed it may open the avenue of corruption. In recent time, new forms of relationship have emerged in public sector i.e. public-private partnership project, private sponsorship in public functions. Also private donations in political fund, election, etc make the issue of conflict of interest more complicated. Generally, transparency in taking decision, following due process in decision making, accountability, external audit and verification, disclosure of interest, strong management culture work as a check against conflict of interest. Strict approach of avoiding conflict of interest may be conflict with other rights, or be inefficacious and inoperative, or counter-productive in practice, or may discourage some people to hold public office at all. Rather a moderate approach which includes- encouraging public officials for serving the public interest, establishing transparency and scrutiny practice in public institutions, promoting individual responsibility and personal example, engendering an organizational culture which is intolerant of conflicts of interest may be more appropriate in managing conflict of interest.