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Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service

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Practice Advice on Human Resource Management

Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service (OECD)

Description: A modern approach to conflict of interest policy is required to identify risks, prohibit unacceptable forms of private interest, raise awareness about the circumstances in which conflicts of interests may arise and identify effective procedures to resolve conflict of interest situations.

Commentary: Managing conflict of interest situations helps ensure that the integrity of government decision-making is not compromised by public officials’ private interests. New and emerging forms of public-private partnerships between government and the for profit and non-profit sectors constantly present new challenges to policymakers.


The OECD defines conflict of interest as “a conflict between public duty and private interests 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”.

A conflict of interest situation can occur in the present, or it may be found to have existed at some point in the past or to exist at some point in the future, as a consequence of a public officials’ choices.
An apparent conflict of interest exists where it appears that a public official’s interests could improperly influence the performance of their duties but this is not in fact the case.
A potential conflict of interest arises where a public official has private interests which are such that a conflict of interest would arise of the official were to become involved in relevant/conflicting official responsibilities in the future.

If not managed or resolved appropriately, a conflict of interest has the potential to undermine the proper functioning of democratically elected government by weakening the adherence of public officials to the ideas of legitimacy, impartiality, and fairness in pubic decision-making and distorting the rule of law, the development and application of policy, the functioning of markets and the allocation of public resources.

The OECD has identified the following core principles for managing conflict of interest:

  • Serving the public interest. Public officials should make decisions on the basis of relevant law and policy and the merits of the case in front of them, without any personal or outside influence. The integrity of official decision-making should not be prejudiced by religious, professional, party-political, ethnic, family, cultural or other personal preferences of alignments of the public official. If he/she cannot isolate/restrict private interests in decision-making, then he/she should abstain from involvement in official decisions which could be compromised.
  • Public officials should not seek or accept any form of benefit in expectation of influencing or not influencing the performance of official duties and functions.
  • Public officials should avoid private capacity action which would derive an improper advantage from inside information obtained in the course of official duties where information is not generally open to public.
  • Supporting transparency and scrutiny. Public official’s actions must be subject to public scrutiny within the applicable legal framework.
  • Public official’s private interests and affiliations that may compromise the performance of his/her public duties should be disclosed appropriately, in order to ensure control and management of a resolution.
  • Promoting individual responsibility and personal example. Public officials must, at all times, accept responsibility for arranging their private capacity affairs, and prevent conflicts of interest on appointment to public office and thereafter.
  • Public officials and public organizations are expected to demonstrate their commitment to integrity and professionalism through their application of effective Conflict of Interest policy and practices.
  • Instilling an organizational culture which is intolerant of conflicts of interest. Public organizations should provide and implement adequate management policies, processes, and practices in the working environment in order to encourage the control and management of conflict of interest situatios.
  • Organizational practices should encourage public officials to disclose and discuss conflict of interest matters, and provide reasonable measures to protect disclosure from misused by others. 

Source: OECD (2003), "Recommendation of the Council on OECD Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service", OECD Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Sector, at:   http://www.oecd.org/dac/governanceanddevelopment/33967052.pdf (accessed 3 January, 2013).  

Page Created By: Khilola B. Zakhidova on 3 January 2013. The content presented on this page is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases. This material does not necessarily reflect the official view of the publishing organization.

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