“Conflict of Interest” the “Scope of Risk” may be somewhat wider, than that which you personally might perceive (Case Study)

We recently had a request from an LPMS member to provide advice in a potential “Conflict of Interest” situation; discussions afterwards with Aon, suggested that the topic of “Conflict of Interest” could make an interesting article for the website.  However, upon reviewing existing LPMS website articles, I discovered that Patrick Foote (one of our Valuer Executive) had already prepared a very extensive and well written article (I would recommend you read this article regularly, so that Conflict of Interest principles remain “top of mind”, when dealing with the issues you encounter).  After reading this article, I have set myself the task of re-reading it every few months, just to reinforce the perspective of how “Conflict of Interest” should be perceived.

Whilst not being able to write a better article on “Conflict of Interest” than the one Patrick had already provided; I had come across one of “life’s little experiences” in a recent Conflict of Interest situation, and I thought sharing the story might add some perspective on how “wide” you might needed to throw the net, when considering how “others” might perceive “Conflict of Interest”; as it is not so much about your perception, but about the perceptions of others in a wide range of circumstances.

To begin the story:

My daughter (to maintain anonymity, we will call her “daughter B”) works for a Government Department (we will this, Department “C”), in a situation where she comes into contact with prisoners.  If this wasn’t exciting enough, she recently decided that she needed a little more adventure in her life, so she volunteered to be trained as an unpaid Event Medic for the local ambulance service.  On face value, the issue of “Conflict of Interest” didn’t cross our minds, as the two areas of work were very different from each other; but read on….

On one of her first training trips out with the ambulance, they were called to a local prison to deal with an injured Prisoner; to give perspective, it wasn’t the prison in which she was based, but it did highlight the potential for a “Conflict of Interest” situation to arise at some point in the future (so much so, that her immediate manager went into a tailspin).  What is the problem?  The two jobs are totally different in nature and couldn’t a professional be a professional in each situation; after all, one was business and one was a hobby interest?). 

Ok, so what “Conflict of Interest” exists? Here she was, capable of acting professionally in two completely separate areas of her life and there was no question that she could act professionally if called upon to provide medical services to a current or ex-prisoner.  However, as Patrick’s article explains, “Conflict of Interest” can be about “the perception of others” and “the innocent interaction of two people, can be perceived as a conflict of interest”.

So how did the two organisations deal with a situation, where my daughter had to avoid coming into contact with any prisoners or ex-prisoners, whilst performing her medic hobby duties (alternatively, as first suggested, she had to resign from the volunteer medic position; so that there wouldn’t be a perceived or actual conflict of interest between the two jobs).  The solution was that, if she was on an ambulance that was called to one of the other prisons where she didn’t work, then there would be no “conflict of interest” (as she didn’t deal with those people as part of her day job).  However, if she found herself in a situation where the call-out was to the prison where she worked, she would remove herself from the ambulance before coming into contact with the prisoner (not just take a back seat in dealing with the injured person, but actually leave the ambulance team for the duration of the incident.  Basically, if they had to transport the prisoner, she would have to walk home or wait somewhere else until the ambulance had finished dealing with the Prisoner).

However remember she volunteered as an “Event Medic”, so the issue gets a little bit more complicated. 

What happens if she is a medic at say “a street fair” and she comes into contact with a known and injured “ex prisoner”, in a public “event” situation? Yes there could still be a perceived conflict of interest situation.  The agreement is that, if she recognises any ex Prisoner who she is about to provide medical services to, then she is to remove herself immediately from the situation (and from the area) and allow another ambulance officer to deal with providing the emergency aid.

So what does this story tell us about “perceived” Conflict of Interest?

The intention of this article is to highlight one of the points bought out in Patrick’s article, that “Conflict of Interest is not necessarily about your own perception of what constitutes “conflict”; it is more about recognising the “potential for”, or the “perception of”, a Conflict of Interest in the opinion of another party”.

The intention of conveying this story is to encourage property professionals to think about the wider picture in regard to “Conflict of Interest”; remembering that, it may not be as straight forward as you initially think, and that the conflict may be “non-work related”; this means you may need to consider the “wider picture” and to run a particular situation past other parties, who have different perspectives on life, to gauge their reaction to a particular situation.

I recommend that you re-read Patrick’s article on the LPMS website regularly, so that the principles of “Conflict of Interest” remain “top of mind”.

Bill Lindsay