Auditor-General's overview

Managing conflicts of interest: A guide for the public sector.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā karangarangatanga maha o te motu, tēnā koutou.

If you work in the public sector, it does not matter what your role is or how senior you are. In a small country like ours, there is a good chance you will have a conflict of interest at some point in your working life.

A conflict of interest is where the responsibilities you have as an employee or office holder in a public organisation are affected by some other interest you have in your private life. That other interest could be a relationship, a role in another organisation, or a business interest.

Having a conflict of interest does not necessarily mean you have done anything wrong. If the conflict is handled well, it does not have to be a problem. Conflicts can arise in many situations. Some are serious, some less so, and some are unavoidable. But, in any situation where activities are carried out in the public interest or paid for out of public funds, the public needs to be confident that decisions:

  • are made impartially and for the right reasons; and
  • are not influenced by personal interests or ulterior motives.

That means, if you are working in the public sector, you need to be able to:

  • identify the different interests you have;
  • recognise if you might have a conflict;
  • understand how serious it is and what risks it gives rise to, for both you and the organisation you work for; and
  • understand what to do about it.

That is what this guide is about – identifying interests and managing conflicts, so the public can be confident that people making decisions and spending public funds on their behalf are doing so in the public interest, not to benefit their family, friends, business associates, or themselves.

To manage conflicts of interest, there are usually both legal and ethical questions that need to be taken into account. Some public organisations are subject to specific legal requirements governing how conflicts are managed. Most will have policies or processes that people are required to comply with. This guide is not intended to replace any of these sector or organisation-specific legal or policy requirements.

Instead, this guide takes a principles-based approach, intended to complement those requirements. It outlines the basic rules that apply to different types of conflicts, points you in the direction of the rules that are likely to apply to you, and provides some principles and guidance on best practice to help you judge how best to manage a conflict, when the rules, by themselves, do not provide an obvious answer. It also includes several scenarios to help show how these principles might be applied in practice.

Nāku noa, nā

Signature - JR

John Ryan
Controller and Auditor-General

24 June 2020