The thought of making an early declaration of a potential conflict of interest might make you uncomfortable, but it could also prevent you heading down the path towards misconduct, warns Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission.
That message comes with the release of a report into the actions of a state public servant who “allowed her personal relationship and personal priorities to lead her into serious misconduct”, says the commission.
Sarah Bellamy developed and implemented WA’s innovative abandoned mines program and was involved in the procuring contract services. She told the commission she loved the program and that it was the best thing she’d ever done.
She was responsible for authorising payments to consultants when she started a romantic relationship with the owner of contractor Soil Water Group and became involved with the business while still employed as a public servant, arranging for Soil Water Group to provide services and authorising payments for work that had not been carried out, claims the CCC.
She did not declare either conflict to her employer, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, and when questioned by the department gave misleading information and concealed her personal relationship, the watchdog says. Bellamy claimed she did not feel comfortable declaring the relationship to her line manager, with whom she had an acrimonious relationship.
When leaving the department, it is claimed, Bellamy took confidential documents with her and emailed ministerial correspondence and briefing notes to the Soil Water Group.
As she prepared for departure from the public service, Bellamy is alleged to have received a text message from Soil Water Group owner Adam Pratt, saying, “Hi Love, how’s the afternoon going and the rape and pillage of data for your own personal benefit?”, concluding with a love-heart emoji.
Her response was short but clear, says the CCC: “I am copying contacts as we speak”.
The case came to light when an envelope was left on a department manager’s chair containing a printout of an email sent from Bellamy’s email address at the Soil Water Group describing her as ‘business manager’ at the company, says the report.
The commission formed an opinion that Bellamy had acted corruptly and engaged in serious misconduct on at least three occasions when she procured or attempted to procure the payment of invoices to Soil Water Group totalling more than $24,000 and disclosed confidential information.
The alleged theft of information not only has the potential to undermine public trust in procurement, but raises the problem of how to quantify the cost of such actions — it’s easy to work out the value of a stack of missing notepads, but how much is a folder of confidential information worth?
The CCC says Bellamy’s behaviour shows the need for ongoing vigilance and oversight of procurement, even when relatively low amounts are involved.
“It also shows the need for an early disclosure of potential conflicts of interest,” said the commission in a statement.
“Had there been an early disclosure, the problem may not have escalated.”