Written by: Brett Lyndon – Pro Leaders Academy Pty Ltd
In this final of our 3-part series we look forward to what must be done after a Conflict of Interest is disclosed.
It is reasonably common knowledge that any COI must be declared. For me though, this is not good enough. I say that because a declaration can be verbal and that does not necessarily mean that the conflict has be recorded for transparency and accountability purposes. Personally, I like to say that any Conflict of interest must be documented.
A recent incident in the Victorian government highlights this very important distinction. An IT Manager working for the Department of Education and Training directed $14 million worth of work to a company he owned, over a 13-year period. The IBAC report of the investigation found the project manager had verbally declared his conflict of interest to some managers, but failed to declare his conflict of interest in writing. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-27/victorian-public-servant-directed-government-work-to-own-company/12291060
All Conflicts of Interest once declared, documented, or discovered must be managed.
But what does that really mean and how do we do it?
The Ideal Resolution Strategy.
Investigate the conflict, record all findings, and remove the conflict from the equation.
The ‘official’ or decision maker involved where the conflict has been identified must either surrender the personal interest so that the conflict no longer exists or remove themselves (or be removed) from the professional task that creates the conflict.
It is important to note at this point that this is not and should not be considered a ‘black mark’ against the individual with the conflict. They have done the right thing by declaring the COI and maintaining probity, transparency and fair process.
You might notice we use the word ‘ideally’. However, we understand that not all conflicts can be removed.
Sometimes the work area is so small that the ability to remove individuals with a conflict and replace them with others simply does not exist. Or there could be other factors at play (i.e. experience, specialist knowledge) that mean the official with the COI must stay involved.
In these cases, it may be possible to leave them involved in the work tasks but remove them from decision making responsibilities. Or in the worst case, they may still be required to make decisions even though they have a documented Conflict of Interest.
Wherever and whenever an official or decision maker with a COI is required to continue work tasks with a conflict in place, documentation is the single biggest protector the organisation has against any allegations of failing to conduct fair process.
Everything must be documented including:.
- The conflict and any possible resolution strategies and investigations.
- The decision-making process and reasoning for allowing the conflict to continue will need to be documented.
- Very careful and precise records will need to be made of the entire process that the individual is involved with will need to be created and maintained.
- Recordings of deliberations, outcomes and decisions will also need to be made.
In short, the more evidence the organisation can create to prove that a fair and transparent process has been undertaken, the better the organisation can prove that probity has been maintained and that no wrongdoing has occurred.
This provides a measure of protection for the individual and the organisation against possible complaints and further scrutiny.
If questions remain, seek independent advice. This may take the form of Probity advice either internally or externally of your organisation. Probity education is another area you can investigate as opposed to simply seeking probity advice.
Over the past few months we have covered Conflict of Interest in detail. Here’s a brief summary:
- Conflicts of Interest are not bad.
- Undocumented Conflicts of Interest are bad – They breach probity and undermine confidence in our ability to conduct fair and transparent business.
- Conflicts of Interest can occur in many varied circumstances – seek advice if you’re not sure.
- All Conflicts of Interest must be DOCUMENTED.
- Declaring and documenting a conflict does not make you a bad person – it proves your integrity and commitment to a fair and transparent process as an individual.
- Declaring and documenting a conflict will not make you lose your job as a government employee – you might be removed from the particular work activity or decision-making responsibility though.
- Any conflicts once declared in writing must be fully investigated with all findings documented and retained for future reference.
- If, at any time, you have questions regarding conflict of interest, seek independent Probity Advice or further Probity Training.