Sayed Ikram Afzali | @SIAfzali
Executive Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan
Managing conflict of Interest is critical in a country such as Afghanistan where state institutions have been weakened by corruption, nepotism and cronyism. There are modern definitions and historical perspectives of conflict of interest existing which we can learn from to address this issue in our society. Conflict of interest is defined by the OECD as “A conflict between the public duty and private interests of public officials, in which public officials have private-capacity interests which could improperly influence the performance of their official duties and responsibilities.” Similarly, there are many references in Islamic traditions of governance which address the issue. A seventh-century letter by Ali ibn Abi Talib (the fourth Caliph of Islam) to Malik al-Ashtar who was governor of Egypt at the time, stated the following:
Make a rule of your conduct never to give even a small piece of land to any of your relations. That will prevent them from causing harm to the interests of others and save you from courting the disapprobation of both God and man. Deal justice squarely, regardless of whether one is a relation or not. If any of your relations or companions violates the law, mete out the punishment prescribed by law, however painful it might be to you personally, for it will be all to the good of the state. If at any time people suspect, that you have been unjust to them in any respect, disclose your mind to them and remove their suspicions. In this way, your mind will get attuned to the sense of justice and people will begin to love you. It will also fulfill your wish that you should enjoy their confidence.
However, despite such modern understanding globally and rich traditions locally, the issue of conflict of interest is relatively unknown or properly understood in Afghanistan. Many Afghan officials who manage the bureaucracy do not seem to fully understand or accept that conflict of interest can lead to corruption and injustice. This is understandable in the context of Afghanistan which is more a collectivist society where interests of a smaller group are often preferred over the interests of larger society and where sharing and reciprocity within a smaller group or clan is largely the norm. Accordingly state institutions operating on the basis of the rule of law have remained underdeveloped. However, state institutions, which are supposed to be impersonal, cannot function in a fair and sustainable manner based on the norms of a collectivist society. Therefore, conflict of interest regulations and a management system are needed to prevent corruption, misuse, and injustice. Keep reading…