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Conflict of interest (COI)

Conflict of interest (COI) is an ethical situation in which organizations or individuals who are responsible for public and professional services are inclined towards external motives and incentives that are distracting them from their primary interests and goals. COI can cloud the ability of fair judgement and can unduly influence the impartiality required in decision making.

These external incentives and interests may not be bad in themselves but the circumstances put them against the principal interests of the society in such a way that their significance for the responsible public servant is obviously outweighed.

Few examples of COI are as follows:

Hiring your brother's firm to supply goods for your employer is an example situation of COI. Obviously your personal sentiments for the success of your brother are in conflict with the interests of your employer. Which one would you prefer?

An Engineer who is authorized to approve his or her own work is also facing the COI.

Developing friendship with your business partners will eventually lead to COI and you will have to choose between friendship and profit.

Every professional who is committed to achieve excellence in his profession may face situations like these once in a while. So question is how to deal with it? What is the best ethical way out of it?

Before finding solution to the dilemma, one clarification is necessary. COI should not be confused with other illegal activities that are against the law. As mentioned above the external incentives are good in themselves if they are not in conflict with ones professionalism. So things like kickbacks and bribes are absolute corruptions and do not fall under the category of COI.

The first step to get out of the situation is to openly declare the COI before all the involved parties and stake holders. This clears the air and everybody knows that as a good professional your intentions are clean and you do not want to give undue benefit to anyone.

In the next phase you can simply avoid the COI by giving your authority to someone who is impartial. If that is not possible you can ask for help of an impartial supervision which can guarantee your fair judgment.

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