Sally is the SO Director of Corporate Services and the delegate to approve the recruitment of a permanent AO5 role in the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) team.
The panel conducts the recruitment process and prepares the selection report for Sally’s review. One applicant is recommended for appointment and another applicant is merit listed. Sally recognises the applicant recommended for appointment as John, the son of a close family friend. Sally wasn’t aware that John had applied for the role and he currently works for a different Queensland Government agency.
Sally considers whether this creates a conflict of interest. She determines that there are no concerns given she did not encourage John to apply for the role, she was not involved in the selection process and she agrees with the recommendation from the panel. Sally signs the selection report and the applicants are notified of the outcome.
The merit listed applicant, Ben, is in the same group of friends as John and hears that John was the successful applicant. Ben is aware that John’s parents are close friends with Sally. Ben has been working in the ICT team for 3 years now and thought he had a good chance at winning the role. Ben is very upset by the outcome as he considers that his skills and experience are more suitable to the role than John’s. This leads Ben to believe that the only reason why John was selected for the role is the relationship between Sally and John’s parents.
Ben requests feedback from the panel chair who explains that Ben was assessed as only slightly less suitable than John in two of the key capability areas, leading him to be ranked second and merit listed. Ben is not satisfied with this explanation, so he lodges a promotion appeal to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC).
John is advised of the promotion appeal and feels very nervous as he has already resigned from his previous role and commenced in the AO5 role. Additionally, John took out a loan to buy a new car after accepting appointment to the AO5 role. If John’s appointment in the role is overturned, it may impact on his ability to repay his car loan.
Are there any conflicts of interest which have not been addressed?
While Sally considered the conflict of interest, she failed to document and declare this to the authorised delegate. Although Sally supported the recommendation of the selection panel, as the delegate she is required to independently review the decision-making process of the panel to ensure it is fair and merit based. Given Sally has a close personal relationship with John’s parents, this creates a conflict of interest to Sally’s role as decision maker and impacts her ability to do this in an unbiased way.
The QIRC determines that the decision to appoint John was not fair and reasonable due to the conflict of interest created by Sally’s relationship with John and her role as delegated decision maker. The decision to appoint John is overturned and the agency is required to appoint a new delegate to reconsider the selection panel’s recommendation. John is notified that his appointment has been revoked and the decision is being reconsidered.
What should Sally have done?
Under the Public Service Act 2008 and the Code of Conduct, Sally has a responsibility to declare in full, any interest that conflicts or may conflict with the performance of her duties. As a SO Director with delegated decision maker responsibilities, Sally has a duty to inform herself of her obligations in relation to both recruitment processes and dealing with and disclosing conflicts of interest.
Sally should have declared her relationship with John to her supervisor, who is the delegate to receive and consider any conflicts of interest for her role. The delegate would then have been able to further discuss the matter with Sally and decide a course of action in the public interest, such as assigning a different delegate for the appointment decision.
Sally’s role as a Director requires her to sustain a level of trust and respect from her colleagues and subordinates to effectively undertake her duties. It’s reasonable to think that this trust and respect would have been eroded because of Sally’s conduct. Additionally, Sally’s actions have had a significant impact on John.
Sally’s failure to declare the relationship and appropriately manage the conflict of interest it created may be considered misconduct or a breach of the Code of Conduct and she may be liable to discipline.
In the future, Sally should more carefully consider her obligation to declare conflicts of interest and the responsibilities of a delegated decision maker during recruitment and selection processes.
- Always disclose the full extent of a relationship to the appropriate delegate. The delegate is responsible for determining whether a conflict exists, and a course of action based on the information provided. If all relevant information is not provided, the delegate’s ability to manage the conflict appropriately is hindered.
- Delegated decision makers for recruitment and selection processes (not just panel members) need to declare any actual, perceived, or potential conflicts of interest to the appropriate delegate.
- Having a conflict of interest is not in itself wrong. Failing to disclose the full details of a conflict is where the wrongdoing lies.