Corruption Matters - May 2018 - Issue 51

Top five conflict of interest myths

Conflicts of interest probably trip up more public sector people and cause more unnecessary panic and problems than any other corruption-related concern. One of the reasons for this is the myths surrounding conflicts of interest.


1. Having a conflict of interest makes you look bad, so hide it.

Hiding conflicts is what makes people look bad, not having the conflict of interest in the first place. When we are told that “I didn’t declare my conflict because it would have made me look suspicious”, the next question has to be, “So did avoiding the declaration make you look more, or less, suspicious?”.

Declaring a conflict means that you are being transparent and honest.

2. As long as you declare your conflict you have done everything you need to do.

Declaring a conflict is the first step and an extremely important one. In addition, there may be a number of other essential steps, such as:

3. You don’t have to declare a conflict of interest if others already know about it.

Even if people know that you have a conflict of interest you need to formally disclose it to your manager. There have been many cases where a person has assumed their manager knew all about a conflict of interest but the manager did not know at all, knew about some of the conflict or actually misunderstood substantially what was involved.

If your manager is to help you to deal appropriately with the conflict, then he or she needs to properly understand it.

4. Telling my manager about my conflict of interest is enough.

Investigations have highlighted many disagreements between staff and their managers about what was actually declared. In order to protect yourself, make the conflict of interest declaration to your manager in writing and keep a copy of it. Your declaration should be detailed enough so that your manager can properly understand it without having to ask you for more information.

5. If I give a formal declaration to my manager, that’s definitely all the disclosure I need to provide.

Sometimes, but not always. If your conflict of interest involves a formal process, such as tendering or hiring staff, the rules will typically require you to make another declaration to the person in charge of your conflict of interest. You should confirm that your declaration has been recorded in the minutes of the meeting at which you made the declaration. The panel convenor or chair will then be in a position to decide how your conflict should be handled.

If there is a conflict of interest register, it is your responsibility to make sure that you make a disclosure in the appropriate form to the person responsible for keeping the register.

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