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Conflict of Interest Policy

1. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to outline the requirements for assessing and managing conflicts of interest to ensure consistent, transparent and ethical processes.


2. Scope

This policy applies to all staff of CIT including Board and committee members, contractors, engaged representatives and volunteers.  As outlined in Definitions, the term employee is used throughout this document to include staff and engaged representatives.


3. Principles

3.1 What is a Conflict of Interest?

A 'conflict of interest' occurs when an employee's private interests improperly influence the performance of the employee's official duties and responsibilities (ACTPS Integrity Policy 2010).

Private interests are not limited to financial interests or those interests that could generate a direct personal benefit to the employee. A conflict of interest may involve otherwise legitimate private activity, personal affiliations and associations, and family interests, if those interests could reasonably be considered likely to improperly influence the employee's performance of their duties.

As outlined below, a conflict of interest can be actual, perceived/apparent or potential.

Conflicts of Interest

Actual - This involves a direct conflict that has occurred or is occurring between the duties of an employee and competing interest or obligation.

Perceived or Apparent - Where it can appear to an outsider that an employee's private interests could improperly influence the performance of their duties – whether or not that is the case.

Potential - This involves the possibility of a conflict occurring between the duties of an employee and a competing interest or obligation.

Conflict of duty/role - Where an employee holds one or more official positions/roles that may come into conflict with one another to some degree or where the information obtained in the capacity of one role may/may appear to inappropriately influence decisions made in another.

The need for accountability and transparency in all dealings is particularly important because of the diverse and complex functions of CIT.

To effectively manage conflicts of interest, the processes followed must be transparent and involve the joint participation of employees at all levels and must be demonstrated through organisational practices. In all situations, public interest must be prioritised above any private interest.

By implementing and adhering to this policy, employees can protect themselves from allegations of impropriety and meet their legal obligations to manage any conflict of interest.

Employees of the CIT are required to comply with the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (ACT), ACT Public Service Code of Conduct, ACT Public Service Code of Ethics, ACT Integrity Policy and Public Sector Management Standards 2016.

The primary obligation of employees with regard to conflicts of interest is set out in section 9 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994. Relevantly, sections 9(1)(a), 9(1)(b) and 9(2)(f) provides that an public servant must:

  • take all reasonable steps to avoid a conflict of interest;
  • declare or manage a conflict of interest that cannot reasonably be avoided; and
  • not when doing the public servant's job - apply improper influence, favouritism or patronage.

It is important to note that, under this policy, these principles apply to anyone engaged to deliver CIT programs and services, whether for remuneration or not.

3.2 Identifying a Conflict of Interest

Perceived conflicts of interest may undermine trust and be as damaging as an actual conflict, so it is important that employees seek advice when identifying a conflict of interest. It is not always easy to identify a conflict of interest, particularly where the conflict is such that it may affect an employee's perception of the situation.

Conflicts of interest are common and are expected to arise in an environment of public sector employment.

There may be certain circumstances where conflicts of interest cannot be reasonably avoided.  For example, where a person's involvement is essential to a matter or where there is a policy of affirmative action.  What is important is what an employee does, or does not do, once they become aware of the conflict of interest.

The key test in identifying a conflict of interest is whether a reasonable disinterested person would observe that an individual employee's private interest could compromise or appear to compromise the proper performance of their duties as a public servant.

Examples of Conflicts of Interest

Private/Personal interests

Private interests are those interests that can bring benefits or disadvantages to employees as individuals, or to others whom public officials may wish to benefit or disadvantage. Private interests may be financial or non-financial. A conflict of interest may be perceived if an employee has significant personal/family relationships with other employees, students, clients or contractors.

Example:

You are a member of a Selection Advisory Committee for a position advertised in another department within CIT. A long-term friend submits an application for the position. In this case, your private interests as a friend have the potential to, and may be perceived to conflict with your duties, as your friend has the potential to gain from your decision.

Your obligation - declare the conflict to the Chair of the Committee, and take reasonable action to avoid the conflict, e.g. remove yourself from the committee thereby ensuring that you are not involved in the assessment of your friend's application.

Pecuniary/Financial

Pecuniary interests involve an actual or potential financial gain or loss. They may result from the employee or a related party owning property, holding shares or a position in a company bidding for government work, accepting gifts or hospitality, or receiving an income from a second job. Money does not need to actually change hands for an interest to be pecuniary.

Example:

You own a private business that tutors students in the function of equipment used in the space industry. At the beginning of each semester, you hand out flyers to all your CIT students encouraging them to contact your private business to organise tuition, as this will help them in their studies at CIT. In this case, a conflict of interest exists, as the employee, through their access to potential clients from their work at CIT, will gain financially from students' use of the services provided by their private business.

A pecuniary conflict of interest may also arise where work outside of the public sector (second jobs) limits performance in your public duties.

Your obligation - declare the conflict to your supervisor, and take reasonable action to avoid the conflict, e.g. cease promoting your business to CIT's students and/or on CIT premises.

Non-pecuniary

Non-pecuniary interests do not have a financial component but may arise from personal or family relationships or involvement in sporting, social, religious or cultural activities. They include any tendency toward favour or prejudice resulting from friendship, animosity or other personal involvement that could bias an employee's judgement or decisions.

Example:

A family member owns and operates a business that supplies educational material to the CIT and you are involved in the procurement of that educational material.

Your obligation - declare the conflict to your supervisor, and take reasonable action to avoid the conflict, e.g. you may provide input to the procurement process but remove yourself from accessing any tender documents and the decision making part of the procurement.

Conflict of duties/roles

There are two situations to consider when assessing a conflict of duty.

The first is where a public official has multiple roles/'wears two hats'. In addition to their principal job, an officer may find that part of that job involves taking on another public sector or community-based role.

A common example is when a position in the ACT Public Sector (ACTPS) includes being a member of a board for which the CIT has some responsibility.

The conflicts in these circumstances, where there are competing interests, are not always recognised because no private interest is involved or apparent.

The second situation is the problem of officials acquiring confidential information in the course of their principal role that could be useful in relation to their work in another role, or future role.

The risk of conflicts of duty is increased as it may be difficult to keep multiple roles separate. The potential result of conflicts of duties could result in poor performance, improper/unlawful decision-making, misuse of Government information, breach of intellectual property and/or creation of bias for or against another group/person.

Whenever avoidable, an employee should not have roles with a competing relationship or where one has a regulatory/review role in relation to the other.

Conflicts of duties may be unavoidable in some instances such as in small communities where employee numbers are limited or where there is a lack of competition/specialist skills.

It is therefore important that roles be structured to separate functions and areas of work from each other and are adhered to and monitored by employees and management in those roles.

Disclosure of information by current and former public employees

Employees who leave the ACTPS risk legal proceedings against them if they take advantage of official information gained during their employment in the ACTPS.  In addition to the possibility of prosecution, improper use of information can entitle the ACTPS as the former employer to sue the former employee under the law relating to confidence.  Employees leaving CIT who intend using confidential information acquired while a member of the ACTPS in their new employment are required to seek approval from CIT's Chief Executive Officer.

Disciplinary action may be taken against a current employee where information is disclosed without proper authority.

All employees of the ACTPS should be aware of requirements relating to the disclosure of information under the Crimes Act 1900 and penalties which apply (50 penalty points, imprisonment for 2 years or both).

Work Outside of ACTPS/Second Jobs

In accordance with section 244 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994, permission to undertake work/role outside of the ACTPS (including paid employment, voluntary work, business involvement, and community and company positions) must only be granted by a delegate as listed in the Human Resources Delegations Manual. An Application for Approval for Work Outside the Service form (internal access only) must be completed, approved and submitted prior to commencing secondary employment.

Pursuant to section 108 of the Public Sector Management Standards 2016, when considering applications for approval for a second job, delegates must -

  1. consider the consistency with the public sector principles; and
  2. not approve a second job where the delegate reasonably believes it would create a real or perceived conflict of interest for the employee.

Unpaid or Voluntary Work

Voluntary and community groups could have interests or aims in relation to ACT Government policy development or program implementation.  In such situations, unpaid or voluntary work outside employment can present the same potential for conflicts of interest as paid outside employment and should be treated with the same level of importance as paid outside employment. Employees must disclose voluntary work, roles or associations (using an Application for Approval for Work outside the service (internal access only)).

Social Media

In an increasingly digital world, conflicts of interest can arise through an employee's use of social media. For example, a conflict of interest may exist where:

  • You update your social media profile to promote your CIT achievements in a project prior to the official release or public unveiling of the project.
  • You post a comment on Social Media reflecting your personal views that conflict with the CIT's position about a CIT initiative, where your personal account clearly identifies your employment with the CIT.
  • You do not maintain a clear delineation on your social media forum (e.g. LinkedIn) between your CIT employment and your outside interests and/or secondary employment.

Political Activity

Being an ACT public sector member should not normally prevent an employee from joining a political party or a community interest group. However holding office in, or being a spokesperson for a political party could compromise perceptions of the employee's ability to function impartially. Employees must avoid all conflicts of interest between their political interests and activities and their official responsibilities, in accordance with the ACT Public Service Code of Ethics (which outlines rules relating to political activity and political comment).

The Guidance on Caretaker Conventions also provides information on guidelines for the behaviour of public employees wishing to participate actively in the political process.

Not a conflict of interest

Where an employee develops a positive working relationship with a colleague that becomes a friendship, it is not a conflict of interest. However, if the relationship is such that it would place either of these individuals in a position that may compromise or appear to compromise the proper discharge of their official duties, then the conflict must be notified and managed appropriately in accordance with this policy.

3.3 What to do if I have, or suspect I have, a Conflict of Interest

Disclosure of conflicts of interest

Employees are required to disclose any actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest to their supervisor as soon as they become aware that such a conflict may exist. Failure to do so or a delay in doing so, may constitute misconduct, and result in disciplinary action against the employee.

A Conflict of Interest disclosure form is available on the Shared Services Website (use Executive Conflict of Interest Disclosure form). The form requires the following details: employee details, the declared conflict of interest, the duties affected by the conflict, restrictions and strategies implemented to manage the conflict and the date and signature of the employee and their manager. Forms should be retained as a record within the business unit and may be audited.

Conflicts of interest forms and written declarations of no conflicts of interest may be required in certain instances prior to: undertaking investigations; inspections; audits; and participating on recruitment and tender evaluation panels; or as membership of a committee.

If an employee is unsure whether a conflict of interest exists, it is recommended that they discuss their concerns with their manager/supervisor. They may also contact CIT Human Resources for guidance.

An undeclared actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest can cause embarrassment to an employee, the Institute and the ACT Public Service even where they have acted properly.

Supervisors will consider disclosures and will support employees by carefully considering whether the employee's or CIT's integrity would be at risk of an unresolved conflict of interest if a management strategy is not implemented.

Supervisors will determine the most appropriate management strategy taking into consideration the interests of the organisation, employee and public.  Other factors to consider may include the level and duties of the employee and the nature of the conflict of interest.

Conflicts that arise in the course of a meeting (such as for any board, committee, or council) must be discussed and a management strategy decided in the meeting, with the decision made by the members who do not have a conflict of interest. Interests that are declared, the nature of the conflict of interest and how it was managed must be minuted and retained as a record.

Chairpersons of appeal panels for employment matters are not to have a conflict of interest so the responsibility to chair will rotate to the next panel member who is without conflict.

Disclosure of work outside the ACT Public Sector

As outlined above, permission must be obtained prior to commencing secondary employment: including paid employment, voluntary work/role, business involvement, and community and company positions.

An Application for Approval for Work Outside the Service form must be completed, approved and forwarded to HRSharedServices@act.gov.au with a copy retained by the employee and supervisor/manager.

If approval for a second job is granted, but there is also a potential for a perceived or actual conflict of interest, then the additional Conflict of Interest disclosure form must also be completed and assessed separately.

Declaration of interests, conflict of interest, for Executive Employees

In accordance with section 46 of the Public Sector Management Standards 2016, executive employees are required to submit written declarations of private interests prior to commencement, annually and as soon as practicable whenever situations change and a declaration is required. Declarations of interests for executives must be entered on the declaration of private interests form and approved by the Chief Executive Officer.

The ACTPS Declaration of Private Interests Policy sets out the details of the management and review of executive declarations and states that the declarations can cover interests that are "financial, or private, and can sometimes extend to the interest of an immediate family member".

Declarations of private interests are treated as strictly confidential and are managed in accordance with the Territory Records Act 2002 and Information Privacy Act 2014 and under the CIT Privacy Policy. Executive declarations are reviewed by the Chief Executive, except the Chief Executive's declaration which is reviewed by the CIT Board Chair.

Similarly, executives are asked to complete the Executive Conflict of Interest form, when an actual, perceived or potential conflict of interest may exist.

Further information can be obtained by contacting the Senior Director, CIT Human Resources.

3.4Managing conflicts of interest

The minimum requirement for all conflicts of interest is that they must be formally disclosed to the employee's supervisor, in writing. After declaring a conflict of interest, the employee and their supervisor can together choose from the recommended management strategies below to help them handle the conflict of interest effectively and transparently.

A management strategy is to be determined and agreed upon as soon as practicable following the identification of a conflict of interest. The chosen strategy must be recorded and approved on the Conflict of Interest form.

A range of options exist for managing a conflict of interest including the following:

Management strategies (Independent Commission Against Corruption - New South Wales)

Strategy What this strategy means When this is most suitable
Register Employee formally register details of the existence of a perceived or potential conflict of interest. For very low-risk conflicts of interest.
Where recording the conflict of interest is sufficient to maintain transparency.
Restrict Restrictions are placed on the employees involvement in the matter to oversee part or all of the process that deals with the matter. The employee can be effectively separated from parts of the activity or process. The conflict of interest is not likely to arise frequently.
Recruit Recruit a disinterested third-party to oversee part or all of the process that deals with the matter. It is not feasible or desirable for the employee to be removed from the decision-making process.
In small or isolated communities where the employees particular expertise is necessary and genuinely not easily replaced.
Remove Employee is completely removed from the matter. For ongoing serious conflicts of interest, where restriction or recruitment of others is not appropriate.
Relinquish The private interest that is creating the conflict is relinquished. Where the employees commitment to public duty outweighs their attachment to their private interest.
Resign The employee resigns from their position with CIT. No other options are workable. Where the employee cannot or will not relinquish their conflicting private work. Where the employee prefers this course as a matter of principle.

Reviewing conflicts of interest

Registered conflicts are to be reviewed and recorded by supervisors and employees as part of individual performance discussions or as circumstances change. In instances where the situation changes and the conflict requires a new management strategy, a new disclosure form must be submitted.

Reporting conflicts of interest

Where an employee knows of an undisclosed conflict of interest relating to another employee, that conflict must be reported to the employee's supervisor or the Senior Executive Responsible for Business Integrity and Risk (SERBIR). The SERBIR role is performed by the Executive Director, Corporate Services.


4. Documentation

Public Sector Management Act 1994

Public Sector Management Standards 2016

ACTPS Code of Ethics

ACTPS Integrity Policy

ACTPS Code of Conduct

CIT Code of Practice

This policy is based on the CMTEDD Conflict of Interest Policy and Guidelines (September 2018).


5. Definitions

All terminology used in this policy is consistent with definitions in the CIT Policy Glossary except as outlined below:

  • Employee - refer to "CIT Staff" in the CIT Policy Glossary
  • Engaged Representative - Persons working on behalf of the CIT, including contractors, recruitment agency staff, labour-hire employees, consultants, external advisors, members of the CIT Board, internal committees/panels, and volunteers engaged or appointed. Conflict of interest identification and declaration requirements apply to anyone engaged to deliver government programs and services, whether for remuneration or not.

Note: For convenience, the term "employee" is used throughout this document to represent CIT Staff and Engaged Representatives as defined above.


6. Policy Contact Officer

For more information about this policy, contact Senior Manager, CIT Human Resources.

Contact CIT Student Services on (02) 6207 3188 or email infoline@cit.edu.au.


POLICY INFORMATION
Policy No: 2019/138
Approved: October 2019
Next Review: October 2022
Category: Staff Policies, Corporate Policies
Policy Owner: Executive Director, Corporate Services
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