Investigating Officials: Examine conflicts of interest

The law recognizes that the tremendous powers given to officials have to be tamed in various ways, including ensuring that they do not use these powers to protect and promote their own interest rather than the public’s. Conflicts of interest arise when those entrusted with power or authority have pecuniary interests that may either benefit from, or be damaged by, the exercise of such power.

The Constitution has measures to guard against conflicts of interest in the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. Any official who violates these measures can be charged with violating the Constitution. Thus, in investigating officials, it may not be necessary to prove that they received bribes or otherwise benefited from an anomalous action, policy, or decision. Showing that they were in a conflict-of-interest situation often suffices.

In addition to the Constitution, the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibits officials from directly or indirectly benefiting from transactions requiring the approval of government bodies of which they are part. The Act explicitly says that officials cannot be members of such bodies even if they do not participate in the deliberations on transactions in which they may benefit.

Apart from these laws, institutional or professional codes of ethics guard against conflicts of interests. For example, the Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to inhibit or recuse themselves from cases in which their relatives or former clients are involved.

One can document conflicts of interest by doing an asset check of officials and examining how they make decisions on transactions involving companies, property, or economic sectors (e.g., power, manufacturing, agriculture) in which they or their relatives have an interest.

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