Preaching is no solution for building integrity

By Adam Graycar

September 26, 2016

In a study of corruption in New York a few years ago I wrote that what the city lost to corruption was not money as much as governance capacity. In Victoria money has certainly been stolen, but last week’s report from the IPAA integrity forum indicates that public service morale has taken a hit, and policy outcomes have been distorted.

The challenge for those of us who do research and training, as well as for those who manage, is to identify transgressions, and put preventive mechanisms in place. However, when transgressions morph into systems we then have a very different ball game. There have always been people who are on the make, who play fast and loose, and we are probably not going to change that.

“We don’t have an ethical crisis. We have transgressions…”

The question is how welcoming is the overall culture to their transgressions. Every department head will put their hand on their heart and say there is no place in their department for rotten apples. None will say that the barrel is rotten. And I am pretty sure it is not.

When I did a study for IBAC three years ago we found that corruption was not on the radar of most Victorian agencies. Fraud certainly was. My guess is that after operations Ord and Dunham, there is more corruption awareness. IBAC has also recently released a report on procurement which will need careful analysis — it does not look quite right.

Running courses with scenarios of what to do with the bottle of wine or the ticket to the football that is hypothetically offered is not going to have an impact on people on the make, and will be quite demeaning to the vast bulk of public servants who want to get on with the job and who have a good moral compass.

A blanket approach focussing on big C corruption is not helpful.

With my colleague Dr Adam Masters we are developing a prevention matrix that identifies corruption opportunities, and tailors corruption prevention options in areas such as HR, financial management, procurement, service delivery and leadership. I am going to test run the matrix next month in Europe with public servants from a range of countries and cultures.

We are building this on traditional crime prevention principles. However, treating public servants as potential criminals is not the way to go. That is insulting. We have moderated the criminological language, and talk instead about changing the effort and the risks to behave corruptly and valuing integrity and raising awareness.

Preaching at people does not work. Working on integrity building and building best practice in all aspects of public service will probably yield results. We don’t have an ethical crisis. We have transgressions, and we will be in big big trouble if these transgressions become systemic.

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