Back in 2010, when this blog was a little over a year old, I had my first experience with conflict of interest in politics. I’m sure there were many incidents prior to that, but I was just now paying attention.
Islamic Billionaire the Aga Khan owned an Island in The Exuma National Park. He wanted to develop the island which involved dredging so that his yatch could dock at the island.
The problem was no dredging is allowed in the National park without the approval of the Bahamas National Trust and The Minister of The Environment The Honorable Earl Deveaux.
The Minister and Executives were to use the Aga Khan’s Helicopter to do an assessment of the Aga Khan’s proposal. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Minister Deveaux used the Helicopter to attend and completely unrelated private function on the Abaco.
Many cried foul, asking how could you make an objective decision about our natural resources if you’re using the man’s private helicopter to flyer around the country? Isn’t he allowing you to use his helicopter in hopes of influencing your decision?
Mr. Deveaux’s response;
I can’t be bought with a helicopter ride (paraphase)
end of story.
So what exactly is conflict of interest and how do we prevent it?
According to the Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines for managing conflict of interest in public service;
Conflict of Interest is a conflict between the public duties and private interest 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.
The guidelines also show activities with the greatest potential for conflict of interest
The Deaveaux incident fell under the “Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality” sector of the chart above and you can see it has the highest potential for conflict of interest.
That’s because of a little thing called the “Law Of Reciprocity”
and according to wikipedia
Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.
As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal – Wikipedia.
So we see that although Mr. Deveaux didn’t think he could be bought by a helicopter ride, we know better. It was a huge gift and he would no doubt feel obligated to return the favor, even if he didn’t realize it. Which is why many countries and organizations have a policy against accepting gifts.
Fast forward a few years and we have another big controversy involving conflict of interest and a public official.
Attorney General Conflict Of Interest Over Baha Mar Dispute?
Attorney General Allison Maynard is the Government’s lead negotiator in the dispute between Baha Mar, the Chinese Export Import Bank and the China State Construction Company and has led two government delegations to Beijing, China, for negotiations about the resort since the property filed for bankruptcy on June 29.
This despite her daughters and husband having business interest tied up in the BahaMar dispute.
If you go back to the chart above on activities that are most likely to lead to conflict of interest, the situation with The Attorney General falls under two categories; Family relationships and Business Interest.
But despite what appears to many to be clear cut case of conflict of interest, the public official and government is once again down playing it.
The point is to illustrate that conflict of interest is not always nefarious, therefore it does no one any good to claim that they meant no harm or that they will not be influenced by the conflict.
Instead we must acknowledge it and have the proper policies in place to deal with it.
How to manage conflict of interest
The OECD has several key recommendations on how to manage Conflict of Interest;
- Develop specific conflict of interest policy for specific categories of public officials
- Identify relevant conflict of interest situations
- Establish procedures to identity, manage and resolve conflict of interest situations
- Demonstrate leadership commitment
- Create a partnership with employees
- Enforce the conflict of interest policy
According to the guide we should have specific conflict of interest policies for;
- Ministerial cabinet staff
- Procurement officials
- Tax officials
- Contract managers
- Customs officers
- Senior public servants
In order to combat conflict of interest and other forms of corruption in Government we need the leadership to be on board. Unfortunately, In both cases we see our leaders defend the persons found to be in conflict and not stand policies that are already in place or international standards.
It will take us, (you and I) to keep demanding proper focus on rooting out corruption and conflict of interest within our government.
In a small country such as our, conflict of interest may be inevitable in some instances, but that only means that we need to be more vigilant and strict in our policies of how its dealt with and we need our leaders to understand this.