Sunday, September 02, 2012

Conflicting views on "Conflict of interests"

Ministers in India may be corrupt, dishonest or arrogant. But you cannot accuse them of being short on innovative ideas.

Recently Mr.Subodh Kant Sahai, Union Minister of Tourism has come under "unjustified" fire on a charge of conflict of interest. He wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on 5th Feb. 2008 seeking his personal intervention for allocation of two coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd. On 6th February, the ever-so-prompt Prime Minister wrote to Coal Secretary recommending appropriate action. Needless to say, the needful was done. Subodh Kant Sahai's brother, Mr.Sudhir Kumar Sahai is a Director in the company. If you are accustomed to contemporary ministerial standards of probity, you would ask "so what?" If you are an innocent layman or should I say, an ignorant nincompoop espousing an obsolete sense of ethics and fairplay, you would be aghast at the outrageous conflict of interest in the act of of a minister, supposedly a trustee of nation's wealth, recommending conferment of a bonanza to his brother at the cost of public exchequer.

The honourable minister ofcourse justified his action since he has done it "for the development of the State". In order to clear any doubts, he went on to assert "in future also, I would make such recommendations for the development of my State". The minister sees no conflict of interest in this 'patriotic' act.

Would the minister have recommended if his family members were not involved? The minister does not tolerate such stupidity of thought. He is categorical in emphasising "I would not recommend any person on the street (mathlab: a non-family member). We recommend somebody only after checking his antecedents (meaning: how he is related to me)".

I must confess I could not understand the theory of absence of 'conflict of interest' when a minister takes advantage of our Prime Minister's munificence to enrich his relatives. When the interests (duty to uphold public good and downright nepotism) conflict, how can we say there is no 'conflict of interest'? My doubts vanished the moment I grasped the significance of the Chidambaram Doctrine which clarifies that there is an ocean of difference between "no loss" and "zero loss". When interests conflict, it is not "conflict of interest". QED.

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