What is “Conflict of Interest” and Why Does it Matter So Much?


This article talks about a concept called “Conflict of Interest” in terms of Federal, State, or Local Government employees.

When a person takes up a job with any arm of Government they sign up to a code of conduct. One of the elements of that code of conduct is that their personal interests do not conflict with their public duties. This is because people working in Government jobs make decisions that affect people’s lives and livelihoods, and the public is entitled to have confidence in the integrity of their public officials. A good definition of integrity is ‘doing the right thing, even when no one is looking’.

What this means is that employees must take reasonable steps to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest in connection with their employment.

Here is an example of a real conflict of interest: a Local Government employee is involved in determining a grant regarding a company that will restore a historical property. The employee’s uncle owns a construction business and plans to tender for the grant. In this instance the employee must declare that they have a conflict of interest and remove themselves from the decision-making process.

A perceived conflict of interest is trickier. For example, a State Government employee participates in a conference to learn about the latest developments in e-government. There are many private sector vendors at the conference and some of them have stalls that invite conference participants to place their business cards in barrels to win new computers. The employee puts her business card in a barrel and is announced a winner. In this instance, the employee must declare and hand her prize over to her employer. Far better that the employee did not enter the draw in the first place, because the public (in this case the private sector vendor) comes away with the impression that the Government employee put her own interests above that of her employer. Indeed, how much confidence can a reasonable person have that the stall vendor did not select her business card deliberately as a means of “getting their foot in the door” with the employee’s workplace?

If you work for the Federal, State, or Local Government and you have any questions about conflict of interest, talk to relevant areas in your department/council to get advice on this important topic.

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