How local and state governments can prevent corruption during emergencies

By Shannon Jenkins

August 20, 2020

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Victoria’s anti-corruption agency has released two resources to help state and local governments prevent and control misconduct risks during times of emergency and crisis.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission’s new guidance states that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and last summer’s bushfires have prompted rapid responses from all levels of government. When combined with remote work arrangements, increased demands on the public sector, and changes to the way government services are delivered, this has created opportunities for corruption to occur.

Both fact sheets identify a number of risks related to increased pressure on employees, working remotely, governance processes and oversight, decline in corruption resistant culture during emergencies, and lobbying.

IBAC has outlined dozens of warning signs and control measures that are related to these risks.

For example, when agencies are under increased demand during a crisis, suppliers may pressure agencies to rush procurement or payments, or to agree to improper variations of contracts. Control measures for these situations could include ensuring agreed processes are followed and any exemptions are documented, or obtaining advice from a procurement adviser before starting the procurement process.

If there has been a reduced focus on corruption awareness and prevention training due to the pandemic, organisations can adapt existing training for online delivery, and use relevant case studies to help staff recognise fraud and corruption risks, IBAC notes.

Read more: Allegations of stolen toilet paper just one of the reasons ICAC has created a guide for agencies on COVID-19 and corruption

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich has previously warned of the risks that come with working from home. The new resources note that working remotely can lead staff to accidentally discussing sensitive information, increased cyber threats, and perceptions of isolation. The pandemic may have also left some staff and their families facing financial hardship.

These issues “have the potential to increase employees’ vulnerability to corruption and fraud risks”, IBAC says.

Some of the suggested solutions to these issues include talking regularly with staff about work requirements — while also supporting them through their pressures — encouraging the use of secure communications technology, using a government-approved file-sharing service and email system, and keeping hardcopies of confidential material in lockable home safes.

IBAC has urged agencies to review their corruption prevention and detection strategies during emergencies and crises, to ensure strategies remain effective and are also proportionate to the circumstances.

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