Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Conflict of interest.

Indian external affairs minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj issuing no objection statement to clear travel documents of Mr. Lalit Modi who is considered as fugitive in some financial irregularities cases created lot of controversy and political turmoil. Now the name of current chief minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia also surfaced in this controversy as it seems that she wrote a confidential letter in support of immigration application of Lalit Modi. Both these people were occupying some constitutional post, Mrs. Swaraj wrote that note as a external affairs minister and Mrs. Scindia was leader of opposition of Rajasthan state assembly when she wrote that letter. This whole controversy is because of legal troubles of Mr. Lalit Modi in India, he is supposed to face inquiry in relation to some money laundering scam related with cash rich cricket tournament IPL but instead of that he escaped from country and now living in London. Both Mrs. Swaraj and Mrs. Scindia have very close ties with Mr. Lalit Modi, they both personally know him, some of their close family member are directly or indirectly associated with him in professional capacity. Mrs. Swaraj is claiming that she helped him on humanitarian grounds. It seems that Lalit needed those travel documents so that he can be with his wife who was undergoing some treatment related with cancer in Portugal. Whereas Mrs. Scindia still not clarified whether she issued any such letter or not. Both these cases are ideal examples of conflict of interest, actually this is a big deal in all developed countries where one has to declare any conflict of interest almost everywhere where it might affect your judgement or work related behavior. Even in research I remember that we need to sign conflict of interest form declaring that we don't have any interests which can create any sort of conflict in our research work, if there is any such thing then we have to declare it so that concerned authorities know about it in advance, failure to do so can have serious professional and legal consequences. 

So what is this conflict of interest which is given so serious consideration, actually it is very simple thing to understand, if there is anything (specially any financial or personal interest) which can affect your professional behavior even remotely then it should be properly disclosed before engaging in that professional activity. I can cite some examples based on my personal experience; for example, if I am acting as a judge in my city's school science fair and there are projects from same school or same grade in which my kids study or projects by kids who I know personally (like my friend's or neighbor's kids) then I have to tell the panel of judges that about it so they all know about it. If possible they might want me not to judge those projects as there is a conflict of interest from my side. But even after this disclosure if they want me to judge those projects then it is my duty to judge it in very impartial manure but I need to disclose that information. If I don't do that then no matter how much I claim to be impartial people can always question my intentions as I didn't disclose that information before accepting that responsibility. If I fail to disclose that information for whatever reasons and it gets discovered after I finished my duty as science fair judge then I give others opportunity to question my intentions and actions, that is why it is better to disclose it. And it is not only required because I might show some favoritism but because of my association with that person or school directly or indirectly, it can have a negative effect also. I might be extra strict with those students just because I might have unreasonably high expectations from my own kids or other kids from their school. This is why disclosure of conflict of interest becomes very important matter.

When you put tobacco business people on a committee which is supposed to decide tobaccos impact on human health, how can you expect a impartial and unbiased opinion from them? At the same time you cannot put a anti-tobacco person on same committee, it needs to be balanced and impartial. These type of things will keep on happening unless people understand and follow the policy of declaring conflicts of interest. Then only parents won't be in a selection committee where their kids are appearing for interview, then only researchers will declare if they have any consulting assignments or shares of any company which is directly related with their research work. There are many things like this which I can list here but I guess readers must have understood my point. If these two political figures who are facing severe political crises would have followed some simple steps of declaring their relationship with Lalit Modi and stayed away from issues related with him then they may not have been in so much trouble. Hope that people learn from these incidents and take care of not engaging in similar activities in future.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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