Overview of Conflict of Interest Act
As per the Conflict of Interest Act (CoIA), a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises on official power, duty of function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Public Office Holders (POHs)
POHs are subject to the obligations imposed in Part 1 of the CoIA with respect to avoiding conflicts of interest. In general, this means that they are required to avoid situations where the exercise of their powers, duties and functions would provide an opportunity to further their own private interests, or the private interests of their friends or relatives, or to improperly further the private interests of any other party.
Specifically, they have statutory obligations to:
- Arrange their private affairs in a manner to prevent them from being in a conflict of interest (section 5 of CoIA)
- Not participate in decision making that places them in a conflict of interest (section 6 of CoIA)
- Not give preferential treatment to any person or organization based on the identity of that person or organization’s representative (section 7 of CoIA)
- Not use insider information that is obtained in their positions and not available to members of the public to further private interests (section 8 of CoIA)
- Not use their position to see to influence other decisions of other persons so as to further private interests (section 9 of CoIA)
- Not allow themselves to be influenced in the exercise of their functions by offers of outside employment (section 10 of CoIA)
- Not accept gifts that might reasonably be seen to have been given to them in an attempt to influence the performance of their functions (section 11 of CoIA; also applies to family members of the public office holder, but does not apply to gifts received from relatives of friends)
- Not use any contracting authority they hold or direct to award contract to family members (section 14 of CoIA)
- Not solicit funds from any person or organization where doing so would place them in a conflict of interest (section 16 of CoIA)
In addition, they are required to recuse themselves from any decision making that would place them in a conflict of interest (as per section 21 of CoIA). They are also subject to the post-employment rules in sections 33 and 34, which prohibit them from taking “improper advantage” of their positions after leaving, acting in any “specific proceeding, transactions, negotiation or case” for which they previously acted for or advised the Crown, and from giving advice to clients or employers using information obtained through their positions and not available to the public. These post-employment restrictions are not time-limited.
Reporting Public Office Holders (RPOHs)
The requirements on RPOHs build on those listed above for POHs, and include:
- A prohibition on outside employment (section 15 of CoIA)
- The requirement to divest “controlled assets” (section 17 of CoIA)
- The requirements to make disclosures and declarations of income, assets, liabilities, previous outside activities, offers and acceptance of employment, recusals, travel and gifts
- Post-employment restrictions (i.e., one-year bans on contracting with or being employed by organizations with which the RPOH had “significant official dealings” in their last year of public office)
The CoIA also imposes strict annual reporting requirements on RPOHs, who must submit confidential reports to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to ensure that they have complied with their statutory obligations. The Commissioner may also order that specific compliance measures be taken, including divestment of assets, if necessary. In this regard, the administrative costs incurred by an RPOH in relation to a divestment of asset, or in withdrawal from activities (i.e., removing the name of the RPOH from registries) are normally reimbursed pursuant to section 31 of the CoIA.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is the authority when it comes to education of POHs and RPOHs on their obligations under the Acts. Her office provides information sessions tailored to their respective audiences.
For further information you can refer to the Conflict of Interest Act in the following pages.
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