The ACT Public Service’s failure to appropriately manage conflicts of interest is increasing the risk of corruption, according to the ACT Integrity Commission.
The commission’s first annual report, tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, found that public servants often underestimate risks related to actual, potential, and perceived conflicts of interest, and overestimate their ability to manage these conflicts.
This increases the risk of corruption and can damage the reputation of the public sector, the report warned. Another factor that increases risks is the lack of requirement for public officials engaged in decision-making process, including procurement and recruitment exercises, to declare that they don’t have any actual or potential conflicts of interest.
The commission found that conflicts of interest are “poorly understood and regularly mismanaged” by the public service, despite having a strong governance and policy framework in place.
The report has suggested that to lower risks, government agencies should make conflict of interest declarations a mandatory component of any key decision-making process. Public officials must also declare that they have no known actual or potential conflicts of interest.
The commission has also encouraged the mitigating of corruption risks through good record-keeping practices — particularly by senior officials — and the establishment of a pro-reporting culture in regards to declaring relationships.
The annual report noted that the commission began operating on December 1 2019, and received its first corruption report the following day. By June 30, 2020, the commission had received 76 corruption reports. Of those, 22 were dismissed, seven were referred to external entities, and none were withdrawn.
Dennis Cowdroy was appointed as the inaugural integrity commissioner in 2019, but resigned in November. Michael Adams is currently acting in the role, with applications for the top job closing on February 19.