Section 801: Conflict of Interest
Date Issued: 01/09/1986
Revision date: 11/04/2022
This policy ensures the public's confidence in the integrity, fairness, and effectiveness of the Government of Saskatchewan by setting out how matters respecting conflicts of interest are to be dealt with. The policy defines a conflict of interest and establishes the key principles, process and responsibilities of all employees and managers so that conflict of interest can be managed effectively.
Showing Respect and Integrity and Serving Citizens are core values of the Saskatchewan Public Service. Citizens expect government employees to perform their duties with integrity and in a fair and unbiased manner. A conflict of interest policy ensures that employees are treated fairly and that public confidence is maintained.
The objectives of this policy are to:
- Protect the public's trust and take a balanced approach to dealing with conflicts of interest.
- Set clear expectations and promote individual employees' responsibility for integrity and impartiality to prevent or minimize the possibility of conflicts of interest.
- Establish a consistent and transparent approach in identifying, managing and monitoring conflicts of interest appropriately and effectively.
This policy is based on the following principles:
- All employees have a responsibility to be aware of, and to deal with, conflicts of interest, and act in accordance with the Our Commitment to Excellence.
- A conflict of interest is best understood as a situation. An employee may be in a conflict of interest without having behaved inappropriately.
- All employees have a right to be treated fairly.
- The confidentiality and privacy of employees' personal information and personal health information will be respected and protected at all times in accordance with The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Health Information Protection Act.
This policy applies to all employees of
A. What Is a Conflict of Interest?
For the purposes of this policy, a conflict of interest involves a situation where an employee's work-related duties intersect or overlap with the employee's private interests and result in the possibility of those private interests being favoured over the work-related duties. The test is objective and the perspective is that of a fair-minded and reasonable person.
Conflicts of interest can be actual, perceived or potential.
- An actual conflict of interest arises where there is a direct conflict between an employee's duties and the employee's private interests.
- A perceived conflict of interest arises where it is perceived or it appears that an employee's private interests could improperly influence the employee's duties.
- A potential conflict of interest arises when an employee's private interests could be in conflict with the employee's duties in the future.
The following scenarios demonstrate how each of the above conflicts may come into play:
|Scenario||Type of Conflict||Why this is so?|
|You are an employee who is a member of a procurement committee who regularly evaluates bids submitted by local suppliers. ||No conflict ||This is part of your assigned official duties, but you have no relevant private interest that may impact the carrying out of those duties. |
|Subsequently, your spouse starts to run a supply company||Potential conflict ||Your private interest (spouse's business) is not currently relevant to your duties but it could be in the future if your spouse submits a bid. |
|Your spouse submits a bid to your committee to supply products in response to a request for proposals. ||Perceived conflict ||Although you do not evaluate the bid yourself, some may consider/perceive that your private interest is relevant to and may influence the committee's decision. |
You evaluate the bid submitted by your spouse.
|Actual conflict ||As a committee member, your private interest
overlaps with your assigned duties and could create an incentive respecting
your evaluation as your spouse is a related individual who stands to benefit or
lose by your evaluation. |
B. Private Interests That May Give Rise to Conflicts
A conflict of interest may arise in many and various ways. It can arise from a financial interest or a non-financial association. It can be professional or personal. It can be caused by, among other things:
- employment with another organization or involvement in an outside business;
- being a board member of an organization;
- professional or legal obligations owed to someone else;
- membership in a particular organization;
- investments and property ownership;
- gifts and hospitality;
- family or close personal relationships;
- prospects for future employment or business opportunities;
- strong political or personal beliefs or public statements.
It is not the existence of the private interest alone that constitutes a conflict of interest. A conflict arises only if, in a particular situation, there is an intersection or overlap between that interest and the employee's duties that result in the possibility of that private interest being favoured over the work-related duties.
C. Specific Situations Respecting Conflicts of Interest
The following is a list of specific conflict of interest situations. It is not intended to be all-inclusive.
Outside Employment – undisclosed employment, business ventures or contracts frequently have the potential to result in conflicts of interest. For that reason, employees must have written permission from their permanent head prior to undertaking outside employment or other for profit ventures. Full disclosure permits an assessment to be made of any risk and assists decision-making that properly balances the interests of all parties. The process and form for seeking approval, as well as the right of appeal, are set out in Appendices A and B.
Outside Activities – as with outside employment, outside activities have the potential to result in conflicts of interest. However, since the majority of those activities will not result in conflicts, permission to engage is only necessary where there is a reasonable possibility of a conflict existing. Employees are encouraged to speak with a manager if they are not sure. Dialogue with the employee's manager will assist in that process. When approval is needed, the process and form to be used are set out in Appendix A. The right of appeal set out in Appendix B also applies to decisions respecting outside interests.
Political Activity – while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees certain fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, those rights are not absolute. The Public Service Act, 1998 states that 'no employee in the public service shall . . . at any time, take part in political activities in any manner that impairs the employee's usefulness in the position in which he or she is employed'. All public servants have a duty to preserve both the reality and the perception of an impartial, effective public service.
Employees who wish to seek to be nominated for, to be elected to, or to hold a public office are free to do so, but must disclose this by completing Part I of the form in Appendix A. The manager will discuss with the employee the steps to be taken to mitigate any potential conflicts of interest. Those steps may include anything from a leave of absence to one or more of the measures set out in Part D. 3. Those matters are to be documented on the employee's file.
Vendor-sponsored Travel – an offer to an employee of vendor-sponsored travel must be assessed through the conflict of interest lens. Where there is no conflict or the risk can be managed, vendor-sponsored travel can and should be approved in situations for activities relating to inspection, testing, training, contractual obligations, conference presentations, emergency assistance, panels, committees, regulatory standards, roundtables, task forces or membership meetings.
Gifts, Benefits or Other Favours – employees may have a personal interest if they could feel indebted or obligated to anyone who has provided gifts, benefits, hospitality or favours (or could be perceived as being indebted or obligated). For that reason, an employee, and an employee's family member, should never solicit or accept any gift, benefit or favour – whether money, service, travel, entertainment, hospitality, an item or a personal benefit – without compensation, that could be viewed as creating an indebtedness or obligation.
Absent any conflict or appearance of a conflict, an employee may accept any gift that represents the normal exchange of gifts between friends, the normal exchange of hospitality between persons doing business together, or tokens of nominal value exchanged as part of protocol. Employees must report to their permanent head the receipt of any gift with a value in excess of $200, or any gifts received directly or indirectly from one source where the total cumulative value received in any fiscal year exceeds $200.
Ministry-specific Issues – the unique and varied work done across the Government will, in some cases require ministry-specific approaches to conflicts. The Mineral Resources Act, 1985, for example, states that 'No officer or employee of the ministry shall take or receive any fee or compensation from any person other than the Crown that is related in any way to his position or office of employment or the performance of his duties thereunder'. Ministries may, from time to time, adopt specific policies respecting conflicts in order to deal with the unique issues within those ministries. Employees are expected to be familiar with such policies and to conduct themselves accordingly.
D. Process for Addressing Risks of Conflicts of Interest
1. Determine whether there is a conflict (Appendix C: COI Self-Assessment Tool)
The first step is to determine if there is, or may be, a conflict of interest. Employees are in the best, and sometimes only, position to identify which of their private interests may overlap with official duties. It is important to remember that the test is an objective one. Employees must consider how a 'reasonable person' would assess the situation. If employee is not sure, the employee needs to have a dialogue with their supervisor or manager. Every employee has the personal responsibility to declare an interest that may result in a conflict. This is especially true for new employees.
Declaring or disclosing a private interest that may lead to a conflict will frequently result in the disclosure of personal information to a manager. Employees' personal information obtained in the assessment and management of conflicts of interest will be safeguarded by the employer and will only be used and disclosed to the extent necessary to deal with the issue.
2. Discuss the options for addressing the conflict
Once declared, the employee's manager must discuss the options with the employee. Conflicts may be dealt with in a variety of ways. Openness and transparency in the discussion will assist in the best decisions being made. In some instances, where there is very low risk, the only required action may be to document the disclosure and indicate that, unless the situation changes, no further action is required.
3. Deal with the conflict
After the matter has been declared and discussed and all relevant facts and considerations are known and the risk has been assessed, the employee and manager must deal with the conflict. A number of strategies are available. They may include one or more of the following:
- Restrict – Restriction may be appropriate when the employee can be separated from the activity, process or information that gives rise to the conflict. This approach would generally be adopted when the conflict is not expected to arise frequently. Otherwise, this approach might not be practical.
Example: An employee is a member of a recruitment panel that is hiring a senior executive. The employee notices that a close family friend has applied. The employee discloses this to her manager and it is agreed that the employee will not be further involved in the recruitment. That addresses any potential or actual conflict. However, if the employee prepared the questions and wrote the position description, additional steps may be necessary to deal with a perceived conflict. Those steps should be documented in case allegations are made that the employee may have used her knowledge to benefit the close friend.
- Recruit – an independent, disinterested, party could be called in to assist by overseeing the process/decision-making or by stepping into the shoes of the conflicted employee. This approach would not be suitable if the conflict is likely to be ongoing.
Example: A prosecutor is charged with a criminal offence and intends to take the matter to trial. Public confidence in the administration of justice could be jeopardized if the case is handled by one of the prosecutor's colleagues. To avoid both an actual conflict and the appearance of a conflict, a prosecutor from a neighboring province is brought in to handle the file.
- Remove/recuse – in some instances it may be appropriate for the employee to maintain the employee's current position but to not participate in decision-making with respect to the affected matters.
Example: As part of the employee's responsibilities, the employee sits on a board involving individuals outside of government. An issue appears on the agenda that creates a conflict for the employee. The employee would recuse herself from the discussion and decision-making on that item.
- Reassign – where the conflict is likely to be a continuing one, reassignment of responsibilities may be appropriate to deal with the conflict.
Example: The spouse of an employee who is involved with municipal matters is elected the mayor of the city that falls within the employee's responsibilities. To avoid both an actual and perceived conflict of interest, the employee may have to be reassigned to different duties.
- Relinquish – In some circumstances it may be appropriate for the employee to relinquish the private interest that is creating the conflict. This approach would not be suitable when the employee is unable or unwilling, for legitimate reasons, to relinquish the relevant private interest.
Example: A senior manager of a branch that regulates the oil and gas industry inherits shares in a company regulated by the employee's branch. The employee would need to either divest the employee's interest in those shares or have them placed in a blind trust.
- Resign – in extreme situations where the conflict is of high risk or high significance, resignation of the employee may be the necessary approach if no other feasible resolutions are possible.
Example: An employee with the Ministry of Environment accepts a part-time paid position as the executive director of an environmental advocacy organization involved in lobbying the Government on high profile issues. The positions adopted by the organization generally are in opposition to Government policies. The employee will need to make a choice about which employment the employee wishes to pursue as continued employment with the Government would not be compatible with the other employment.
- Review – in some cases where the risk of a conflict is a continuing one it will be necessary to review and monitor the situation to ensure that the strategy chosen has produced a satisfactory result. If not, the situation will need to be revisited by the manager and the employee and a more effective strategy chosen.
Example: Two employees in the same branch are involved in a romantic relationship. That relationship has been disclosed to the manager and has been documented. Subsequently, one of the employees becomes the supervisor of the other. In light of this, the situation will need to be revisited, discussed and dealt with by the manager and the employees.
Document, if appropriate, how conflicts have been managed by using the form in Appendix A as a guide.
All employees have a responsibility to manage risks of conflicts of interest that may affect their official duties. Managers and senior executives have an additional role and responsibility in setting an example for their employees by demonstrating commitment to the Conflict of Interest policy, principles and process.
A. All employees (including managers) have a responsibility to:
- read, understand and comply with this policy;
- complete the mandatory conflict of interest training;
- assess their private interests and work-related duties in order to identify any possibility of a conflict of interest;
- initiate discussions with their manager, declare and manage conflicts in accordance with Part D - Process for Addressing Risks of Conflicts of Interest;
- clarify any questions or concerns with the employee's manager;
- obtain approval for outside employment, and any outside activities that create a reasonable possibility of a conflict of interest;
- cooperate with the employee's manager regarding requests for additional information that may be necessary to manage a conflict of interest.
B. Managers have a responsibility to:
- ensure employees have read, understand and comply with the policy, and clarify any questions employees may have;
- complete, and ensure employees have completed, the mandatory conflict of interest training;
- manage conflict of interest situations that they may become aware of or that are disclosed by following the process set out in Part D - Process for Addressing Risks of Conflicts of Interest;
- consult, as necessary, with the manager's Director or Executive Director and the Human Resource Business Partner, when managing conflicts;
- make reasonable inquiries where there is a reasonable belief that an employee may have an undisclosed conflict. Managers may find themselves in the potentially uncomfortable position where they have to ask questions about a person's relationships, finances or social activities. While managers must be respectful of privacy, where there is a possibility that an employee may not be acting in the public interest, they have a responsibility to pursue the matter;
- ensure that any personal information and personal health information disclosed is handled appropriately and that privacy interests are protected and maintained;
- balance the interests of their ministries, the public interest and the legitimate interests of employees as well as other factors – including in specific cases the level and type of position held by the employee concerned and the nature of the conflict.
A breach of this policy may lead to discipline, up to and including termination, in accordance with PS 803 Corrective Discipline policy.
Employee means an employee to whom The Public Service Act, 1998 applies, whether appointed pursuant to the Act, hired pursuant to a contract or otherwise and includes students and volunteers.
Manager means, unless a ministry decides otherwise, the out-of-scope supervisor or out-of-scope manager.
Outside employment means employment other than the employee's position in the public service and includes any paid undertaking, consulting or other services, business or the practice of any profession or trade outside the normal scope of the employee's duties.
Public office means election to a municipal, provincial or federal government or a board of education, the Conseil scolaire Fransaskois or a band council.
Vendor-sponsored travel – any travel expense (including flights, accommodation, registration fees, per diems) for an employee that has been paid by a person or company that sells goods or services to the Government.
The Public Service Act, 1998
The Saskatchewan Employment Act
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
The Health Information Protection Act
PS 802 Employment of Relatives
PS 803 Corrective Discipline
PS 1103 Information Technology Acceptable Usage Policy
Executive Council Social Media Policy
Financial Administration Manual (Receipt of Donations No. 3525; Internal Audit Guideline No. 4130; Vendor Sponsored Travel No. 4407 and Vendor Sponsored Travel Approval Form; Procurement of Services No. 4515)
Resources and Tools
The Public Interest Disclosure Act
The Mineral Resources Act (Section 7)
The Lobbyists Act
For inquiries, please contact the Human Resource
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