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Defining conflict of interest is difficult although most people think that they know it all. Conflict of interest is a broad area, and most of them fall into an area where public and ethical perceptions are more relevant than precedents or statutes. This paper will specifically address ethical issues arising from conflict of interest in engineering consultation.
Government engineers are often consulted to give their advice concerning the construction of physical structures such as bridges, buildings, stadiums, or roads. In their analysis of the issues in question, engineers are expected to give their best understanding of the pros and cons of taking a particular action. One such situations that lead to conflict of interest is when a government engineer on a committee that approves tender bids by private constructors gets a job appointment by one of the bidders. The issues that arise include the engineer’s influence in the committee and his obligation to the new employer. As an employee, the engineer is under obligation to work for the best interests of the company he works for. At the same time, his position at in the government tendering committee demands that he gives objective and unbiased advice. The ethical dimension of the issue arises when the engineer is convinced that the bid that was submitted by his new future employer was the best. By the time the results of the bid come out, the engineer will already be working at his new station. The question; should the engineer go ahead and endorse his future employee’s bid because it is the best, or should he excuse himself from the decision making process dues to the arising conflict of interest. If he excuses himself and the company fails to get the tender, will the engineer be responsible in any way?
Responding to these questions requires consideration of the various ethical implications of acting either way. First, the engineer is presently a government employee, and his decisions should be informed by his obligation to promote government interests. In this case, the government’s interest is to ensure that the bidder with the best offer is selected. Therefore, the engineer should not pull back from the tendering committee if he has enough reasons to justify that his potential employer’s bid is the best in offer. As long as the engineer is acting on behalf of the government and he believes that the bid in question is better than all the rest, there is no conflict of interest that should hinder him from giving his opinion.
Secondly, the engineer was not involved in preparing the bid submitted by his future employer. If he were involved, then there will be a conflict of interest in the sense that he will be assessing and giving advice on what he prepared with intention of having it approved by the government’s tendering committee. The foreknowledge that he will be involved in approving or disqualifying the bids will place him in a situation of conflict because he will be serving the interests of two parties, in which case his objectivity will be questionable. . Accordingly, the engineer is under obligation to disclose the potential conflict of interest to fellow committee members and excuse himself (Hansen & Zenobia, 2011, P. 69). In the first instance, it will be difficult to determine the honesty or transparency of the tender since he has insider knowledge regarding the key points that the committee considers before awarding a tender. Secondly, it will be difficult to determine how genuine the engineer is in promoting the interests of his current employer- the government, considering that he is in a position to make a decision that affects his future employer directly. It is unlikely that he will want his future employee to lose the tender, more especially considering that he will benefit if the company in question emerges the winner.
However, the first issues is taken care of by the fact that he did not participate in preparing the bid, and therefore his decision to either approve or disqualify the bid does not portend any conflict of interest. In the second case, he will be applying his skills and knowledge as an engineer to advise the government on the suitability of otherwise of the tender in question. Accordingly, the engineer should base his decision on facts, and not his obligation either to his future employer or the government. By considering the facts of the bid in terms of whether it meets government criteria and comparing it with other bids, the engineer will not violate any ethical value. He will be doing what any other engineer of his skills would have done. Thus, his absence during the preparation of the bid allows him to act objectively by dealing with the issue at present- picking out the best bid from among those submitted.
Nevertheless, remaining in the committee portends a conflict of interest because the engineer will be acting with the knowledge that it’s about his future employee. Although such sentiments may not come into play when giving his advice, it still remains that the engineer is aware of his serving two masters at the same time. It is impossible to maintain absolute objectivity in such a situation.