ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Checking Conflicts of Interest

An ex-Gujarat minister's private investments while in public office has highlighted the need for a law.

A recent investigation by the Indian Express has revealed how Saurabh Patel, a well-connected former minister in the Gujarat government, and his family members had been merrily making investments in private firms linked to the sectors he was in charge of, namely, energy and petrochemicals. This has drawn attention to the pressing need to enact a new law to check conflicts of interest and strictly enforce existing service rules that apply to government officials. The problem is not unique to India. A debate currently raging in the United States (US) is about the likely conflicts of interest (CoI) that will confront President-elect Donald Trump who has substantial business interests in real estate ventures across the world, including in this country.

Transparency International defines CoI as situations in which an individual or an entity for which she or he works, be it a government body, a business organisation, a media group or a civil society organisation, is “confronted between choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.” Many developed and developing countries have enacted laws against CoI including the US, Canada, France, Bosnia, Croatia and Turkey. A number of international organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization have clear norms to ensure that the private interests of its functionaries do not come into conflict with their public duties and obligations. Five years ago, former Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, E M Sudarsana Natchiappan had introduced a private member’s bill to check CoI which never came up for consideration. In March 2011, the Supreme Court chose not to amend the service rules of civil servants to ensure enforcement of a “cooling off” period before they could be associated with private organisations after retiring from the government.

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