Nandalall makes an ass of himself defending Brassington – Law Degree worthless
Attorney General Anil Nandalall was quoted as saying ““If the Opposition Politicians believe that NICIL is operating illegally or unconstitutionally then why haven’t they challenged it in the Courts?…Why haven’t they sought a declaration from the Court?…We have a Constitutional Court; it shouldn’t take too long.”
This clearly shows that either Nandalall is willfully lying or obfuscating the imoral and unethical behavior of Winston Brassington at NICIL and or it shows that the PPP will go to any lengths to defend immoral behavior of public officials. Brassington is a public official employed by the government contrary to what he and the rest of the PPP may try to claim.
We at Guyana Observer will attempt to educate both Mr. Nandalall and Mr. Brassington on their responsibilities as public officials the impact of their actions and how this undermines the common good and public confidence in government.
What are conflicts of interest?
Conflicts of interest occur when an officeholder puts his or her personal or financial interest ahead of the public interest. In the simplest terms, the official reaps a monetary or other reward from a decision made in his or her public capacity.
The most common conflicts in local government happen when officeholders face a vote on real property/land use issues that affect their own holdings. Other examples include voting to grant a benefit to a company in which the officeholder owns stock or even to a non-profit organization on whose board the officeholder may sit or vote on ownership or sale of state assets to relatives and family members or friends.
When a conflict of interest is possible, an officeholder is expected to abstain from the discussion and the vote.
What do conflicts of interest have to do with ethics?
Public service is always about protecting the common good, which may be defined as the common conditions that are important to the welfare of everyone-police, fire, parks, libraries, and other services. A public servant must always put the common good ahead of any personal, financial, or political benefit they might receive from a decision about such matters as where to situate a park or who should collect the garbage.
Also, conflicts of interest interfere with the basic ethical principle of fairness-treating everyone the same. A public official should not take unfair advantage of his or her position by voting on a matter that could benefit them at the expense of others.
Finally, conflicts of interest undermine trust. They make the public lose faith in the integrity of governmental decision-making processes.
What ethical dilemmas do conflicts of interest present?
Many times, government officials honestly believe that they are not being unduly influenced by their personal stake in an issue. They may feel, to the contrary, that their interest in the matter gives them special insight into the subject. A city councilmember who ran on a platform of revitalizing the downtown, for example, may feel entirely justified in supporting measures to improve the area, even if part of the benefit of such improvement might go to their own business. They might argue that they understand the problems of a downtown business because they own one. They might claim, further, that their constituents elected them specifically to represent this interest.
But conflict of interest laws prevent such partiality. First, it’s almost impossible for individuals to determine whether they are being fair when their self-interest is involved. Also, as the Institute for Local Self-Government puts it, “The law is aimed at the perception, as well as the reality, that a public officials personal interests may influence a decision.” Even the appearance of impropriety undermines the public’s faith that the process is fair.
Another common misconception about conflicts of interest is that officeholders are absolved of their responsibility merely by being transparent about their stake in the issue. It is not sufficient for government officials to make conflicts public. They must take themselves out of the decision-making process altogether.
This includes discussion and debate as well as actual voting. Abstention is only half the requirement. A public official is also expected to refrain from public pronouncements and private arm twisting on decisions in which he or she has an interest.
Note, also, that the interest may be personal as well as financial. Helping one’s fraternal order to obtain rent-free space in a public building is a form of conflict of interest, especially if it improves one’s standing in the organization. Being elected president of a community group because of such favors might prove to be in an officeholder’s personal and political interest when the next election rolls around. Conversely, public office should not be used to punish one’s personal and political enemies. Voting no on your annoying neighbor’s reasonable zoning waiver request is another form of putting private ahead of public interest.
What are favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism?
As favoritism is the broadest of these related terms, we’ll start with its definition. Basically favoritism is just what it sounds like; it’s favoring a person not because he or she is doing the best job but rather because of some extraneous feature-membership in a favored group, personal likes and dislikes, etc. Favoritism can be demonstrated in hiring, honoring, or awarding contracts. A related idea is patronage, giving public service jobs to those who may have helped elect the person who has the power of appointment.
Favoritism has always been a complaint in government service. In 2002, a survey from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management found that only 36.1 percent of federal workers thought promotions in their work units were based on merit. (Government Executive Magazine, “Playing Favorites,” by Brian Friel, October 2004). They believed that connections, partisanship, and other factors played a role.
Cronyism is a more specific form of favoritism, referring to partiality towards friends and associates. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know but who you know,” or, as blogger Danny Ferguson put it, “It’s not what you don’t know; it’s who your college roommate knows.” Cronyism occurs within a network of insiders-the “good ol’ boys,” who confer favors on one another.
Nepotism is an even narrower form of favoritism. Coming from the Italian word for nephew, it covers favoritism to members of the family. Both nepotism and cronyism are often at work when political parties recruit candidates for public office.
One of the most basic themes in ethics is fairness, stated this way by Artistotle: “Equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” Favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism all interfere with fairness because they give undue advantage to someone who does not necessarily merit this treatment.
In the public sphere, favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism also undermine the common good. When someone is granted a position because of connections rather than because he or she has the best credentials and experience, the service that person renders to the public may be inferior.
Also, because favoritism is often covert (few elected officials are foolish enough to show open partiality to friends, and family), this practice undercuts the transparency that should be part of governmental hiring and contracting processes.
Probably the biggest dilemma presented by favoritism is that, under various other names, few people see it as a problem. Connections, networking, family-almost everyone has drawn on these sources of support in job hunting in the private spherre.
And everyone can point to instances where cronyism or nepotism is an accepted fact of life in political sphere, as well. John F. Kennedy, for example, appointed his brother Robert as attorney general. Every president and governor names close associates to key cabinet positions. Mayors put those they know and trust on citizens committees and commissions. Friends and family can usually be counted on for loyalty, and officeholders are in a good position to know their strengths.
So what’s the problem?
The first issue is competence. For cabinet level positions, an executive will probably be drawn to experienced, qualified candidates, but historically, the lower down the ladder, the more likely for someone’s brother-in-law to be slipped into a job for which he is not qualified. The American Civil Service Act was passed in 1883 in large part because so many patronage jobs, down to dogcatcher, were being filled by people whose only qualification for employment was their support for a particular party or candidate. Also, the appearance of favoritism weakens morale in government service, not to mention public faith in the integrity of government.
Reasonable people will differ about the appointment of friends and family in high-level positions, but public officials should be aware that such choices can give the appearance of unfairness. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 state legislatures have found the practice of nepotism troubling enough to enact laws against it. Others may restrict the hiring of relatives or friends in more general conflict-of-interest rules.
Public officials should also note that dilemmas involving favoritism extend beyond hiring and contracting practices to the more general problem of influence. Golfing partners, people who come over for Sunday dinner, members of the same congregation all are likely to exert a greater influence over an official than a stranger might. Council members, mayors, and legislators must make special efforts to ensure that they hear all sides of an issue rather than just relying on the views of the people they know. Further, many conscientious lawmakers have discovered that they must change their patterns of socializing when their work involves many decisions affecting friends and associates. At the least, they may choose to recuse themselves from votes where social relationships may exert undue influence.
By Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman
These materials were prepared for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics program in Government Ethics by Senior Fellow Judy Nadler and Communications Director Miriam Schulman. The Center provides training in local government ethics for public officials. For more information, contact Judy Nadler.