Conflict of interest arises in many different situations. Self-dealing is one of the most obvious ones. This occurs when an individual’s activities in his/her official capacity involve dealing with him/herself in a private capacity, often for personal benefit. A classic example is a public official using his/her office to hire their own private company to work for the government. The concern is that the public official may choose his/her own company instead of other, better options available, simply because they desire the profits from the government contract. Moreover, s/he may be very lax in ensuring the public gets full value for its money. Concerns over conflict of interest can also arise when public officials deal with persons with whom they have close relations, such as family members, close friends, and business partners. The concern here is that the public official will place the interests of this particular individual above the greater interests of the public.
So why should we care about government ethics? One reason often cited is the importance of government ethics to democratic participation. As a democratic nation, Canada’s political system only functions properly if its citizens are actively engaged in the democratic process. If, however, Canadians came to believe that politicians and governments were generally unethical or corrupt, they might develop a strong sense of apathy towards their democracy. This, in turn, may result in people withdrawing from democratic participation altogether. You may have heard comments such as: "Why bother voting? They are all crooks anyway."
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Many countries have implemented conflict of interest rules. Public officials may be required, for example, to divest their business interests prior to taking office. This may involve selling the interest, or placing it temporarily under the control of someone else (for example, placing it in a trust). Officials may also be required to take certain precautions when dealing with situations that potentially involve conflict of interest. They may, for example, be required to excuse themselves from certain government decisions where they have a private interest at stake, or, at the minimum, disclose the nature of their interest publicly.