Managers misguided to believe 'we have no corruption here', says watchdog

By David Donaldson

July 4, 2018

Corruption is more than just the extreme cases, and that confusion over more common instances — such as favouritism or misuse of information — is allowing behaviour to go unchallenged, says the head of Victoria’s corruption watchdog.

Too many public sector leaders mistakenly assume there is no corruption in their own organisation, says Independent Broad-Based Anti-corruption Commissioner Robert Redlich.

“While the vast majority of these leaders strive to have their organisations maintain high standards of integrity and are committed to strong public service values, I have been surprised to hear on more than one occasion the comment from some leaders that ‘we have no corruption here’,” says Redlich.

“‘Corruption’ is an unpleasant and often misunderstood term. Frequently we think of corruption as only the most serious and extreme misconduct or criminal behaviour.

“There is often a failure to recognise that more minor transgressions are lesser forms of corruption. Behaviours such as favouritism, nepotism, conflicts of interest, misuse of information, deliberate non-compliance with required procedures, and a failure or refusal to take action with respect to such conduct by fellow employees or management are still corrupt behaviours,” Redlich argues in IBAC’s most recent newsletter.

And while these activities are problems in themselves, they also create a ‘slippery slope’ of bad behaviour that can easily lead to more serious infractions.

“What is important is that leaders recognise that environments in which such conduct is allowed to occur with impunity, provide fertile ground in which more serious corruption can evolve and flourish. The behaviours above contribute to organisational cultures that manifest and support corrupt conduct. Ignoring what is perceived to be minor misconduct behaviour puts an organisation on a path towards the normalisation and acceptance of corruption,” he says.

“Management is often too resistant to the possibility of the existence of corruption within their organisation,” thinks the commissioner, adding that “when corruption is discovered, management is often unwilling to publicly acknowledge it in order to protect their reputation or the reputation of the organisation.”

While he acknowledges that allowing this information to go public can impact on organisational morale, the alternative is not costless either: “it is equally true that a decision to conceal the corrupt practice from public gaze seriously undervalues the long-term benefits that are gained for the organisation from a rigorous examination of issues and public exposure.”

And for leaders trying to protect their own reputation by hiding corruption when it occurs, Redlich argues it’s in your own interests to tear off the bandaid.

“Too often in the past, leaders have chosen to conceal corruption to protect their personal reputation; driven by the wish to avoid it on their ‘watch’. However no public sector leader should ever be confident that their organisation will ever be completely free of corruption.

“But when our leaders are proactive in combatting corruption and have the right people and correct systems and processes in place, no justified criticism can be laid at their feet if corruption is found and exposed during their watch.”

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