1. You are posted as the secretary of the education department in a state. The state government has just launched a scheme for awarding scholarships to meritorious students to pursue higher education abroad. The undergraduate students having exceptional academic record would be awarded hundred percent tuition fees and living expenses at a university abroad. You are heading a committee of bureaucrats and academicians that will shortlist the candidates after scrutinising their academic performance. While going through the list of candidates you realise that one of the candidates applying for the scholarship happens to be the daughter of your best friend. Her academic credentials are really good and there are high chances of her getting this scholarship.
Do you see a conflict of interest here? Discuss. Is there a way to address this conflict? If yes, what are the alternatives available? Examine.
Stakeholders in the case
- The secretary of education department
- Other students applying for the scholarship
- Reputation of education department
- Society at large
Conflict of interest refers to conflicts between one’s professional responsibilities as a public servant or as a member of an organization and one’s private interests as an individual. It is the most obvious ethical dilemma.
In this case, there is a conflict between neutrality (selecting only the deserving students) and personal commitments (rejecting daughter of best friend, if the case maybe).
Way to address
Approach 1 – Recuse from panel
- Conflict of interest will be resolved.
- Objectivity in selecting candidates will be maintained.
- Department’s reputation as being objective will be upheld.
- No impact on personal relationship if friend’s daughter is not selected.
- Do not know the credentials and value system of successor.
- Might impact the working of committee as well as result in delays.
- Lead to escapism, as many situations will have some conflict of interest.
Approach 2: Keep heading the committee
- Selection might get completed within the given timeframe.
- May blot department’s image of being neutral.
- Impact personal image in department, might be seen as partial.
- Impact on personal relation if daughter is not selected.
Approach 3: Keep heading the committee, but make the conflict known to the members and keep the selection process transparent.
- Upholds department’s image as being neutral and transparent.
- Increase personal reputation of being impartial and objective.
- Students will not feel that the board is biased.
- Not impact the personal relations as well.
In this way, duty can be discharged without an impact on personal relations. As every other situation can have some conflict of interest and one must choose a middle path.