Watchdog uses SA Health as example to warn of harmful maladministration

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday October 18, 2019

Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander has made an example out of South Australia’s Health Department following the release of his latest report.

According to the report — which summed up the conduct and practices in SA’s public administration over the past six years — the state has been “plagued by maladministration”, which Lander argued could be more harmful than corruption.

“Over six years of operation I have concluded that South Australia does not have a public administration that is systemically corrupt,” Lander wrote.

“However, South Australia does have a public administration that is plagued by maladministration and very poor conduct, both of which foster environments that make individual corruption possible and in some instances make it extremely difficult to detect corruption.”

During a press conference on Wednesday, the commissioner was asked for an example of a mismanaged department. His reply? SA Health was “over-represented in the number of reports that are made and investigations that have been carried out”, and is “riddled with maladministration”.

He said the public should be concerned by the amount of maladministration in the department because it would make corruption difficult to detect and could be costly for the taxpayer.

“The extent of maladministration in Health is interfering with our ability to investigate corruption in Health,” he said.

“We have investigated a number of matters in … Health where the allegation has been corruption.

“However the record keeping [is] so bad and the arrangements so bad that you can’t identify precisely what arrangements were or should have been … Better record keeping, in my opinion, would identify more corruption.”

Read more: SA public servants report corruption, laziness, incompetence, bullying, nepotism and the rest

In his report, Lander noted that in some investigations across SA’s public administration record-keeping was so bad that he had trouble confirming something as simple as whether someone had been at work on a particular day.

He told the press that such widespread issues often take years to develop.

“There’s too much of a ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ attitude in some departments — and Health is one of those,” he said.

He added that he a lack of resources had prevented him from exercising his powers to investigate SA Health.

“It would need significant resources — a significant number of lawyers, the assistance of some clinicians and admin staff… and I haven’t got the resources to do it,” he said.

Lander outlined other restrictions that have impeded his work in the commissioner’s report.

“It is well known that I support some relaxation of the secrecy provisions that underpin the ICAC Act. I accept and support that the ICAC Act seeks to protect persons against unnecessary reputational harm,” the report stated.

“However, there is a public interest in some of my functions being publicly known. There are some aspects of my functions that the public have a right to know about and to be satisfied that I am discharging those functions fairly and appropriately.

“I am the only mainland anti-corruption agency that cannot conduct any form of public hearing when investigating corruption, misconduct or maladministration. The law and the functions exercised by a person with my powers should always reflect what is in the public interest.

“If a person may suffer embarrassment by reasons of the exercise of those functions but it is in the public interest that the exercise of those functions be in public, the individual person’s embarrassment must give way to the public interest.”

Yesterday Lander also revealed he asked the government for an additional $2 million in funding to run a review of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network last year, arguing this would likely lead to the agency recouping far more than that, but the request was denied on the basis that he had already been allocated an additional $14.5m over five years. Treasurer Rob Lucas said on a local radio show yesterday the government already knew there were significant problems in SA Health at the time and did not see the need for an ICAC inquiry.

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