Public ethics: the conflict of interests, under the carpet

I do not know any code of behavior, ethics and / or conduct that lacks a section called “conflict of interest”, and it is not chance. If there is a problem that can harm an organization is the personal interest of any of its members over the entity. And when I write “some” they could be several or many. In fact, conflict of interest is one of the most common ethical dilemmas to find and more difficult to eradicate.

In one of the many investigations in which I had to participate, staring at me, the fraudster replied: “It is obvious, if I have to choose between the best for my family or for the company, I stay with my family.” It was the last sentence he pronounced, in the facilities where he lost that job as Purchasing Manager, who made the company pay 10% more for a material he bought from a society run by his wife and brother-in-law.

Could this happen in the public sector? Conflict of interest is inherent in human relationships, and not the quality of public or private.

Conflicts will always exist. The important thing is transparency, that is, the declaration of what is done. Some are “apparent”, and while they may seem harmless, that appearance is harmful. They can also be “potential”: today they do not represent problems, but tomorrow the conditions could change. Finally, conflicts and interests can be “real”.

All this is resolved with an effective policy that, among other things, calls for the disclosure of situations that could represent conflict, with potential to harm the entity. The disclosure of conflicts is a key activity to regulate the behavior of the members of an organization.

In March 2017 and with two decrees, the Government established the mechanism to resolve possible conflicts of interest in lawsuits where the State is a party, or when there are senior officials related to bidding participants. This happened, coincidentally or not, after the harsh criticism and loss of positive image of the government by the cases of Correo Argentino and the sale of MacAir to Avianca.

Law 25.188 of Ethics in the Exercise of Public Function of Argentina (in review for some months, but fully effective to date), a kind of code of conduct for public officials, in its article 13 expresses a series of situations that defined as “conflict”, among which is “being a supplier by itself or by third parties of any agency of the State where he performs his duties”.

It also refers to the receipt of gifts, use of goods or information of the entity or body for personal purposes, among others.

However, conflicts continue and statistically most are not declared or discovered. The laws can be improved, and that will help.

But ethical behavior, in essence, is not a matter of laws. It is about doing the right thing, what is good; exercise the freedom to say “no” when something does not correspond. It must seek to build an ethical climate, the message of transformational leaders within public agencies.

Those who are not mere compilers of codes and policies already signed, but who work on values, exemplify with stories, clear doubts and inspire others to do the right thing.

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