People who engage in professional activities in a given organisation, share with it a primary interest in achieving its mission and values. However, both in their professional activities and their personal sphere, they may have different and legitimate interests, secondary interests (e.g. exercise of activities or financial interest in external companies, by themselves or by direct relatives), which may go against the interests associated with their actions in the organisation – eventually leading to decisions that result in undue benefits for themselves, their families or their close circle of friends, to the detriment of the interests of the organisation, thus causing conflicts of interest.
As a result, organisations seek to ensure the regulation of conflicts of interest that may occur in-house, in order to safeguard values such as legality, loyalty, transparency, trust and ethics. It is important to mention that society has been showing an increasing awareness to the issue of conflicts of interest, due to the criticism by the media and different civil society actors, mainly about abusive situations – and/or ethically objectionable – related to overlapping interests, incompatible with each other.
In this sense, in June 2017, the INESC TEC’s General Council – after a proposal by the Board of Directors – approved the Institution’s Conflict of Interest Management Policy, seeking to ensure the independence and integrity of the activities carried out, as well as how to safeguard transparency regarding the interests of employees, which may or should be known by the institution itself, its bodies and services, other employees and the associated entities. The Conflict of Interest Management Commission (CGCI), appointed by the Board, is responsible for implementing this Policy.
The aforementioned Policy applies to all employees qualified as integrated human resources, and is equally applicable to other staff who regularly participate in the activities of the institution, with a formal contractual relationship.
Moreover, the adoption of a conflict of interest management policy by INESC TEC was a ground-breaking act in Portugal, within the scope of higher education and research and development institutions, thus placing INESC TEC in the top position of this quite important field!
The implementation of the Policy faced some challenges in earlier times, with the institution’s limited culture in the field of conflicts of interests as an example. This fact delayed the general awareness of the need for the adoption of a policy for the management of such conflicts, focusing on protecting the institution and each one of its employees, namely when facing the consequences of society’s view of conflicts of interests involving INESC TEC. In order to overcome these difficulties, a computer platform was created to support the Conflict of Interest Management process, focused on automating and facilitating, as much as possible, the actions of employees in compliance with the Policy guidelines. A set of documents was also prepared, and made available on this platform, comprehending different information about the Policy, in order to disseminate it among the institution’s community, instruct people about it and guide employees as they comply with it.
After three years of Policy application, INESC TEC acquired significant experience in this field, and achieved an internal culture of acknowledgement of its importance, with widespread acceptance among its members; hence, one can state that the process is quite close to the desired stability and cruising speed.
The success of this process was only possible thanks to the dedicated actions by many of the institution’s services, the employees’ commitment to understanding and accepting the methodologies implemented, and also the constant support by INESC TEC’s management bodies.
José Marques dos Santos – President of the CGCI of INESC TEC