SA Health boss to keep job after conflicts of interest investigation

By Shannon Jenkins

January 28, 2020

Adobe Stock

SA Health Dr Chris McGowan breached a public sector act and made some preventable mistakes but he should not lose his job, according to the state public sector employment commissioner and a former Commonwealth ombud.

McGowan referred himself to commissioner Erma Ranieri in November after it was revealed he was still technically CEO of healthcare provider Silver Chain for his first two months at SA Health in 2018.

Ranieri then passed the case on to former Commonwealth ombud John McMillan to run an independent investigation, whose final report was made public over the long weekend.

The report concluded that the mess was an “inadvertent error” on McGowan’s part, as he had relied on Silver Chain officials to “sever his relationship with the company”.

It noted that McGowan breached the Public Sector (Honesty and Accountability) Act by failing to disclose the conflict of interest, and while McGowan had completed a Statement of Pecuniary Interests, it was more than six months overdue.

On a positive note, McMillan noted that SA Health procurement decisions relating to Silver Chain were appropriately handled by McGowan and his department.

“Proper governance arrangements were in place to eliminate actual, potential and perceived conflict of interest concerns,” the report stated.

“As chief executive of SA Health, Dr McGowan took an appropriate interest in programs administered by the department, including programs involving Silver Chain.”

McGowan’s contact with his former colleagues was “generally appropriate”, aside from a meeting that he held with a Deloitte Consulting partner, “contrary to the advice of senior officials in his department”.

Email correspondence dated July 5 2018 referred to texts between the Deloitte partner and McGowan, stating that they had agreed to meet “to discuss potential partnerships with Silver Chain and SA Health”. The meeting did not go ahead because it was “perceived as a probity issue”. McGowan told McMillan that he had privately reinstated the meeting, to the surprise of at least one SA Health official, but Silver Chain was not discussed. McMillan noted that subsequent meetings with a Deloitte partner were recorded in McGowan’s diary.

Read more: Another blow to SA Health: costly company provides ‘nil’ economic benefit

Reflecting the regularly-expressed concerns of Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander, the report said better record keeping of contacts with Silver Chain officials, and direct written and oral engagement with SA Health officials on probity risks could have helped prevent conflicts of interest.

“There was a failure on Dr McGowan’s part to put appropriate conflict of interest arrangements in place upon commencing as Chief Executive of SA Health,” it said. “Dr McGowan acknowledges this failure.”

In a letter to Premier Steven Marshall dated January 23, Ranieri recommended he counsel McGowan to comply with “the important ethical obligations that fall upon him as a chief executive and leader in the South Australian Public Service”.

She suggested McGowan improve his record keeping practices, ensure all actual, potential and perceived conflicts of interest are reported, and “exercise careful judgement” in managing such matters.

McGowan should also undertake coaching on how to avoid conflicts of interest and conduct that would “reflect adversely on the public sector”.

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