Conflict of interest 15


I recently started doing some work as a verifier. As a provider in my own right is this a conflict of interest?  Being a registered provider I see as an advantage in relation to the verification function.

Conflict of Interest as defined by the United Nations Ethics committee

“An organizational conflict of interest arises where, because of other activities or relationships, an organisation is unable to render impartial services, the organisation’s objectivity in performing mandated work is or might be impaired, or the organisation has an unfair competitive advantage”

“A personal conflict of interest is a situation where a person’s private interests — such as outside professional relationships or personal financial assets — interfere or may be perceived to interfere with his/her performance of official duties”.

Corruption watch defines conflict of interest as

“Any financial or other private interest or undertaking that could directly or indirectly compromise the performance of the public servant’s duties or the reputation of a public servant’s department in its relationship with its stakeholders”

“A situation in which a public official has a private interest which influences, or appears to influence a public decision”

Examples of conflict of interest

  • Holding public office as well as private business interests and using your public position to benefit your private interests

  • Influencing government tender processes so that your family members and friends are awarded state contracts

  • Abusing your position within a government department to ensure your friends and family members are hired into the same department

  • Accepting bribes in order to disclose confidential information about the government department that you work for

  • Tendering for a municipal contract when you are an employee of the municipality.

In any work conducted by me relative to verifications I see no conflict of interest whatsoever. My personal business interest as a provider in no way can have or can be seen to have an impact on how I perform my duties as a verifier.

I would argue that my knowledge and the abilities gained from my business interests – which by the way I readily and willingly share with many providers I deal with – benefit these providers in many ways. One of the functions of a verifier is to develop and empower the providers and to offer help, guidance and assistance whenever required.

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15 thoughts on “Conflict of interest

  • Linda Ingram

    Hi Des,

    My view is that if you’re a service provider you should not be verifying another provider. I don’t believe that this can ever be construed as ethical. If it were me, in your shoes, I would decline the offer and not do it. I agree with Lynel that there are obviously documents that you could sign etc, but at the end of the day how can you prove your integrity. If I was a service provider I would strongly object. Nothing personal, but that’s the way I feel.

    Regards

    Linda 

  • Lynel Farrell

    Des, this is not to be negative towards you at all.  But you do not need to take anything physical of a provider’s premises in order to steel information (as I mentioned before, many untold stories), not all individuals are honest, but luckily the wheel turns and they will eventually be caught out when they least expect it.  There are various ways that information is taken, and unfortunately this is the reality (knowledge gained in investigations which I hope to forget one day and never have to see, hear or read about ever again in my life).  You have most probably signed a code of conduct and a service level agreement and need to ensure that within the legal documents you have signed, there is no conflict of interest and that you have in writing declared that you own an accredited training provider and your full scope includes (your specifics).  This is needed to be accepted in writing in order to continue with your verifier status under the specific SETA or SETAs.  As long as everything is in the open and written confirmation is given from both parties and agreed upon, then there shouldn’t be a problem (the problem will come from the Provider(s) once they find out that you are a competitor, and they were not informed before your visit – this could turn ugly and you have no back-up).  Some years ago I asked SAQA, where do we find a list of SETA verifiers, where do you register?, how do you appeal against unfair practices?  – there is no institution or body that will hear you or that will fight for your rights.  Unfortunately this fight you will need to do on your own, either go against the SETA with legal back-up or let sleeping dogs lie.   I know what verification is and I have experience in both verifications and evaluation of accredited providers, no need to re-educate here.  My recommendation to you:  be careful to take on the powers that be, ensure that your business and your career is not put in hot water.

  • Manus Moll

    As learning material developer and accredited Training Provider I would welcome a person with years of experience in the industry as a verifier. We definitely need experienced people with the intent to develop the emerging providers.

     If any irregularities arise during a verification process, I will however reach for the conflict of interest “stick” – due to past experience/s. Especially in our industry.

  • Nigel Shipston

    Certainly Des, I have said it already, in your circumstances, I see no conflict of interest.  What you have laid out as verification is the way that it should be.  Because you understand the system you work in a manner that justifies your service.

    Unfortunately the ungodly have perverted the system that effectively puts you in the perceived category of people to be warded off with a crucifix.  Remember that a lot of these verifiers are appointed by tenders, so you have a lot of pretenders who see the opportunity to make considerable amounts of money.  Strangely, the stringent criteria applied to providers, assessors and moderators seems to have skipped the verifier level, so for company you have a bag load of yahoos that probably can’t even spell verifier.

    Personally, I would welcome a verification visit from you.  Can’t remember any others over the last 10 years that I could say the same for though.

  • Des Squire Post author

    Thank you for the feedback and opinion so far.

    Please people let’s understand that a verifier is there to verify learner results. Do not mix up verification and

    evaluation. 

    A verifier does not take copies of anything, does not have a need to take learner manuals etc. Yes there is a need to see assessment and moderation policies as well as QMS documents. These are viewed on site to ensure the provider is adhering to their own policies and procedures etc. So nothing can be taken from the providers premises, stolen, copied or in any way used by the verifier.

    Please have a look at my previous article entitled “What is verification” – now back to my original question?   

  • Nigel Shipston

    Hey Lady L, welcome to the fray!

    I agree that under our current bunch of verifiers (Des excluded of course!) and without any proper controls or guidelines from SETA’s, verification by another provider is suspect.  But it is sad as you lose the experience of a verifier in your own field.  In the previous example I mentioned, the lady and her sidekick were totally inexperienced in the field of the provider and were subsequently reporting comments that proved to be contradictory to the regulations under which the training provider operated.

    I know when I was with a training provider I insisted that the verifier be experienced in the regulatory field of the training provider to avoid this type of nonsense.  This created total havoc with the SETA as no such animal existed. Just another one of those misguided SETA desktop decisions that have far reaching effects on training providers, without any form of consultation with those very same providers!  I can think of a number of French kings who lost their heads over similar issues.  Hence the reference to a modern day acceptable equivalent to the guillotine.

  • Lynel Farrell

    A topic open for debate ……….. I think this is a very touchy topic.  Many stories and experiences are untold, and will never be told.  In all fairness, I do not see how any verifier whom is part of an accredited training provider can verify their competition.  Too many bad experiences has happened where learning material, QMS Policies has been “stolen”, or assessors and moderators (and great facilitators) have been poached and the list continues.  If you do not have any interest whatsoever in the training provider, their scope, secrets and clearly will not benefit anything out of their information, then there shouldn’t be a problem.  I think this is a very sensitive topic and needs careful input or thoughts.  I have declined before, to ensure that I do not sit in this situation, the risk is just to big.  If I was the provider being verified by a competitor, I would not appreciate the verification and would request another verifier with immediate effect.

  • Nigel Shipston

    Henk, that has to be the saddest indictment of SETA inability to do what should be done.  Using resources to “defend” a name that in many cases gone beyond defending!  Defending your name means you have missed the bus somewhere and now want to blame it on everyone else.  Who are these people trained by, the CIA?

    Irrespective of definitions and their interpretation, I come back to Des’ original question as to whether he is in conflict of interest doing verification while also being an accredited training provider.  If you are adding value to a system, is there a conflict of interest?  How else do we develop best practice if we do not have people willing to share their experience and support those working towards professional levels?  We still carry so much of the past paranoia and subservience to authority.  If we can get past all of that and understand the need for co-operation, these type of questions would be superfluous.

    To providers I would say simply “What is your competitive edge?”  Ultimately it is the way that you do things, and if exposing how you do things to others means that others improve their systems, how is this a problem?  Being competitive is a living, moving entity.  What works today, needs to be looked at tomorrow to see if it still fits.  We cannot keep on living in this introvertive, secretive and self-contained cave and expect to move forward.  Go outside, run around in the sun.  Maybe we can even come up with an acceptable alternative to the French Revolution guillotine.  “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”

  • Henk Cloete

    Indeed Nigel…

    We had a verifier that I reported and requested an investigation on… That was indeed one of the saddest days of my life as we were met full on by the SETA legal department! And in their own word: “Nobody points a finger at the SETA, and if you do, it is our job to get something, anything on you so as to protect the name of the SETA”

    Needles to say, one year later, nothing on the investigation that we requested…. But lots of paperwork from our side to defend ourselves against the SETA legal team.

    Providers need education on these facts, and the SETA will not provide this as this could cause them to lose their “I am” status… Sad indeed.

  • Nigel Shipston

    See you’ve been down that road Henk!

    It would be ideal if providers were aware of the purpose and function of verification, but who will do this?  The SETA’s?  And then you have the problem that most providers will not “antagonise” a verifier in any way in order not to get a negative report.  Rather bow down and scrape than stand up for your rights which in many cases results in a negative report.  What does that tell you about the verifier?

    I recall a particular instance where I attended a verification as a provider internal moderator.  The verifiers introduction was nothing more than “I am the greatest”, questions put to him which he could not answer where answered with “You are being racist”, with a final cataclysmic invitation to the very attractive owner of the provider company AND her secretary to go on a date with him that night.  We did not report this incident as the owner did not want to get any negativity for the verification report.

    Subsequently, the verifiers boss pitched up for the next round of verifications, and lo and behold if her introduction was like being steamrolled into submission.  “I am”, “this is what I have done”, “this is what I have been involved in” etc, leaving no doubt in the providers mind that they were clearly insignificant and simply needed to comply with her wishes.  Unfortunately the poor lady was to verify two virtually identical providers for whom I did moderation, and the reports were so far apart that I could not resist reporting the inconsistencies to the SETA.

    Providers need to be trained about verification, but perhaps most importantly, they need to be aware that they have rights and that letting verifiers do as they please will not improve the system.  This is a form of moral bribery, and like bribery, they want more and more until their demands become too excessive.  But then we also need to look at the SETA’s, because as long as they fail to realise that training providers are their customers and not vice versa, we will achieve nothing.

  • Wessel PIETERS

    Des,

    In the training and certification business there are personal opinions based on uninformed opinion!

    What about reading ISO 17024 that outlines clearly when a conflict of interest occur in the context of training and certification.

    In short, if you training a group then you are not to verify/certify of influence directly or indirectly.  Just stay away.

    Otherwise it is permitted.

    All professional bodies follows this line.

    When I ran this past the Services SETA years ago the CEO told me they are the government and can do anything….not interested in “best” and international practice.

    I rest my case.

  • Henk Cloete

    Des, about two years ago I “applied” to be a verifier for a SETA as part of my studies, but it was refused based on the fact that I was employed by a constituent provider. 

    Seeing that many providers as businesses fall within the Micro to Small category, with limited resources, they could only benefit from the experience of people such as you.  

    Personally I feel that ETQA’s need to be staffed by business minded people who can identify with the needs and concerns of all providers. I feel that many (not all) of the individuals who work in the SETA’s are just “administrators” that do not have any, or limited practical experience of being a provider, or has not undergone any formal training in the courses that they evaluate and therefore find it difficult to relate to the frustrations and challenges that providers experience.  This causes unnecessary ETQA “delays” that leaves providers without earning potential. 

    That being said – I have dealt with verifiers that “pushed” their own agenda and that requested much more than the “norm”… CD’s with policies and material etc… 

    But then, should we not rather than train the providers on the “who, what, when and why” of verifiers??

  • Hannes Nel

    Des, I am not sure exactly what your private business, aside from being a verifier, is. If you act as a verifier for learning programmes that you also offer as a learning provider, there might well be a conflict of interest, because you might be accused of not endorsing the results of your competition because you are competition even if, in your heart, you know that this is not the case. This might make your task of providing valid reasons for not endorsing exam results rather difficult. However, if you verify assessment and moderation results other than for the learning programmes that you offer, you should not encounter resistance.

    Services SETA, for example, use private providers accredit by them to evaluate the learning materials developed by other accredited private providers. Sorry, we don’t develop learning materials for their constituent providers because of this conflict of interest.

  • Nigel Shipston

    Des, in your case I would totally agree that conflict of interest is not applicable, and probably your service is of far more value to providers than anything experienced amongst the majority of ETQA practitioners over the last 15 years.  However, there are already too many of the less ethical with their own agendas in the position of verifier/external moderator.  I have always maintained that the system as a whole needed to be implemented by people with significant training provider experience, but the fact that the controllers are generally not experienced in this sector, certainly not with any practical experience of value, has resulted in people seeing opportunities to enforce their own particular brand of the system.

    While I subscribe to your values of providing a service of benefit to training providers, my experience tells me that we are in the minority when it comes to this category of QA in our current system.  Despite the original concept of developmental support, there is an abundance of dictatorial verifiers out there that have been unleashed on providers.  It seems that being appointed as a verifier creates, in general, an attitude of godliness that requires provider total compliance, with more insurmountable hurdles thrown in to make their lives unnecessarily difficult.

    If the SETA’s have a means of ensuring that those appointed as verifiers do in fact understand and implement the concept of empowering providers and offering help, guidance and assistance rather than using their “authority” for personal benefit, I would agree that we can throw the conflict of interest idea out the door.  Alas, the integrity of the system has already been infiltrated, so I am still very wary of training providers being allocated these tasks.

  • Ilana Smit

    Hi Des, I totally agree with you.  Smaller or new providers can benefit greatly from inputs by verifiers who “have been there and got the t-shirt”.  A person will not become a verifier if their heart is not to put back or share their experiences with others.