No naming and shaming: corruption-resistant councils the goal of IBAC research

By Stephen Easton

Friday March 29, 2019

Victoria’s corruption watchdog has released a new instalment in its series of reports on local government, which aims to show council administrators what a good integrity framework looks like.

With $84 billion in public assets to manage between them and about $7 billion worth of services to provide each year, integrity is just as important as it is in other levels of government.

Alistair Maclean, chief executive of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, encourages council administrators to look at the agency’s latest research on six local governments, which generally have “solid integrity frameworks to help protect them from corruption” but also demonstrate room for improvement.

“Areas for improvement identified by IBAC in the six councils reviewed, which have broad application to other Victorian councils, included the development and communication of a clear policy on conflicts of interest, a broader consideration of corruptions risks associated with employment practices, and ensuring suppliers understand the probity standards expected of them,” Maclean said.

“Corrupt conduct by public sector employees, including council employees, adversely impacts on the delivery of vital services and facilities. It wastes significant time and public money; means there is unfairness in the opportunity to provide services to councils, and damages reputations and community trust.”

One key area where councils can do more is in encouraging whistleblowers to come forward.

“It is critical that councils increase efforts to reassure employees they can be protected and that their report will be taken seriously,” said the CEO.

The councils aren’t named as they weren’t being audited or investigated. We know they represented “a sample of metropolitan, outer metropolitan and regional councils who agreed to openly share their practices, policies and procedures with IBAC” but that is all, as the focus of the report is how to improve integrity frameworks.

One participating council commented that this was a useful approach, anonymously of course.

“‘It can be a challenge to uncover and implement best practice examples due to the reticence of councils to publicly share their experiences. The role of IBAC in assisting the sector to continuously improve the culture and practice of good governance and fraud control is crucial to overcoming this.”

The report was based on stakeholder consultations, a survey asking councils about their integrity frameworks, a review of their policies and procedures, and a staff questionnaire that received 648 responses (26% of employees). Elected councillors were not involved.

The staff survey found 85% agreed or strongly agreed that the culture at their workplace encourages honesty and integrity, while 71% said their employer’s arrangements were at least “moderately effective” at preventing corruption.

Just under a quarter think there’s less corruption in the Victorian local government sector than there was five years ago.

And while 18% believe there is a “much lower” level of corruption in their neck of the woods than in other councils, nearly a third (31%) still think “some” or “a little” corruption goes on where they work.

The full report contains detailed advice and information covering six key topics: perceptions of corruption; risk management; fraud and corruption control; corruption risks; ethical culture and leadership; and detection and reporting.

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