The bad employees 'recycled' through the public sector

By David Donaldson

November 4, 2015

Victorian public sector agencies are running the risk of hiring people with misconduct or criminal histories due to inadequate hiring processes, the state’s anti-corruption commission and ombudsman warns.

Organisations are not doing enough to cross-check the employment histories of candidates, allowing bad employees to be “recycled” through different agencies, they argue.

In one case, a former investigator previously found guilty of theft was employed by an inner-Melbourne council. Years later he was arrested and charged by police for accepting $130,000 in bribes in exchange for tipping off illegal brothel owners ahead of compliance inspections.

In another example, a long-term regulatory officer with access to firearms was found to have numerous criminal convictions, including for rape and firearm offences. An investigation — initiated over potential conflicts of interest — found that at no time during the officer’s employment had the agency performed a criminal records check or required the officer to disclose any past convictions.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and Victorian Ombudsman are joining forces to urge the public sector to strengthen recruitment processes, including pre-employment screening and information sharing between agencies, to stop this happening again. IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan said in a statement:

“Recycling of employees with histories of improper conduct from one public sector agency to another, including former members of Victoria Police, continues to be a particular problem.

“Public sector employees accused of misconduct or corruption often resign before an investigation concludes, avoiding disciplinary action. Unless specific probity checking arrangements exist between agencies, these problematic staff are re-employed elsewhere in the public sector with a clean record and can continue their ways.”

Unlike in some other jurisdictions, current Victorian public sector recruitment practices generally don’t require candidates to disclose their discipline records to a prospective employer.

IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman are urging public sector agencies to take action to strengthen probity in their recruitment practices. Steps that could be considered to prevent the recycling of problematic employees between agencies may include:

  • Requiring prospective public sector employees to complete a statutory declaration on their prior work history, including whether they have ever been the subject of an investigation for a criminal or disciplinary matter;
  • Requiring candidates to sign a waiver allowing employers to check up on prior discipline history across the public sector; and
  • Improved communication and information sharing between agencies.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said:

“We continue to see risks to the public sector, in particular from conflicts of interest, and cases where officials leave their role while subject to investigation, with no obligation to disclose this fact.

“Integrity is one of the core public sector values. The recruitment process is a key stage in ensuring the highest levels of probity, which should serve to keep out those who do not act in the public interest.”

In 2013 the Victorian Ombudsman reported on key concerns in public sector employment arising from more than 60 investigations, including:

  • Inadequate pre-employment screening;
  • Appointments compromised by nepotism, favouritism and conflicts of interest; and
  • Recycling of officers with histories of questionable conduct or performance.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission this year issued a new Integrity in recruitment guidance note, suggesting ways public sector agencies could strengthen their recruitment processes to mitigate risks. O’Bryan said:

“Agencies should take a risk-based approach in adopting such measures to strengthen integrity in public sector recruitment, based on a solid understanding of the corruption and misconduct risks faced by their agency, as well as the risks associated with particular positions.

“While concerns may be raised about the application of privacy principles, provided a prospective public sector employee consents to providing information about their employment history and to that information being shared between agencies, there is no breach of privacy legislation.”

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