According to the Asian TII index, conflict of interest situation occurs when an individual’s or institutional’s vested interests raise a question of whether their actions, judgment, and/ or decision-making can be unbiased. The Article 5.3 guidelines list payments, gifts and services, monetary or in-kind, and research funding offered by the tobacco industry to government institutions, officials, or employees as potential sources of this situation.
The tobacco industry is masterful at operating away from the public eye and exerting its influence with stealth. One way the tobacco industry does this is through a patronage system – providing monetary contributions in anticipation of political leverage and support. In the Philippines, revisions to the corporations law lifted the prohibition on domestic corporations giving donations for political activity.[i]
Moreover, the Election Code allows individuals, including industry representatives, to contribute to candidates, political parties, and their election campaigns. In Mongolia and Thailand, the tobacco industry can also give donations of this type but within set monetary limits.
Conflict of interest can also happen when government funds are invested in the tobacco industry (in addition to state-owned enterprises), and the government is expected to ensure its investments produce profits.
In Malaysia, some public financial entities such as the social security system or investment corporations are also shareholders in tobacco companies, benefiting from the industry’s market growth at the expense of public health.
In 2020, government officials from Cambodia, and Myanmar, and other countries in Asian region joined the tobacco industry upon retirement. Government officials who joined the industry in previous years are still connected in the same capacities, with new evidence from Indonesia, and Philippines. Senior government officials in Vietnam who are seconded in Vinataba were even promoted.