Do most Victorians believe they are obliged to report corruption or misconduct? And if so, does that mean they will report it?
Yes and no. In April 2015, IBAC commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 Victorians on how they think and feel about corruption. The survey found 76 per cent of those responding agree they have a moral obligation to report corruption or misconduct. But 60 per cent are scared their details will be leaked if they report it, and almost that number (59 per cent) fear they’ll be victimised or harassed if they do report corruption.
Victoria’s public service has about 300,000 employees, so if we run the survey results over the State public service, that’s a huge amount of corruption going unreported, mostly, it seems, because Victorians don’t know about the State’s available protections.
IBAC says these results informed its corruption prevention strategy. So, while IBAC continues working on corruption prevention, what can be done inside the public service?
In a recent interview with The Mandarin, Richard Bolt gives some insights. Former secretary of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, he’s been secretary of the mega Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, since its inception late last year.
He outlines two key pillars for rooting out corruption – building an organisational culture with integrity at its heart, and being able to detect people operating outside that culture, building walls around themselves.
Says Bolt: “A high integrity culture demands a lot of vigilance and it demands that you don’t go into denial. When the signs are there, pursue the signs. A culture of openness and integrity within the organisation makes it less likely people will abuse their positions — and more likely they’ll be detected if they do. Most of all it’s about making sure there are no safe spaces for people to develop a series of collaborations where, with a lot of small transactions that are fraudulent, they can hide a decent amount of money. But equally people hide stuff. They will hide it. So you have to have the whistleblowing systems and the investigative systems to deal with it when it arises as well.”
Whistleblowing and investigative systems, as suggested here by Bolt, are at the heart of IBAC’s work. In his 2014/15 annual review, IBAC Commissioner Stephen O’Bryan QC points out:
IBAC’s activities in the past year have undoubtedly helped raise awareness of corruption in Victoria.
Our research suggests that until recently, only 23 per cent of Victorians had heard of IBAC. Shortly after this research was conducted, public sector corruption gained unprecedented exposure through IBAC’s Operation Ord* public examinations, driving increased contact with us through phone calls, emails and digital engagement.
IBAC’s corruption prevention work over the next three years will focus on:
1) engaging with the community and the public sector to improve understanding of corruption and its harms
2) improving reporting of corruption and helping to build the public sector’s capacity to address reports
3) alerting organisations to the latest information and intelligence to stay ahead of corruption risks.
IBAC plays an important role in identifying corruption risks, or ‘red flags’, and informing public sector employees and agencies on ways to prevent corruption. However, it is critical that public sector agencies retain primary responsibility for ensuring their own integrity, as their leaders are best placed to identify and mitigate risks specific to their own organisations, and to build corruption resistant cultures.
“Organised crime groups are grooming public servants to leak confidential information to help them break the law, with public sector agencies largely in the dark about the potential for corruption.”
IBAC chief executive, Alistair Maclean
Among other things, there’s a handy video on IBAC’s red flags page, stressing the importance of staff reporting their suspicions.
But in Victoria at least, there may be a few steps to go before that becomes the norm.
Released in December 2014, further IBAC-commissioned research highlighted the need for public sector agencies to review their systems, processes and policies for preventing corruption. Australian National University researchers surveyed 36 randomly selected agencies on how they detected and prevented corruption.
- the controls agencies had in place generally related to fraud and did not focus on corruption specifically
- there was little evidence of explicit involvement of senior management in managing or overseeing anti-corruption measures
- few agencies had specific education or training programs for staff about corruption risks
- across portfolio departments, there was a disconnect around who was responsible for corruption prevention making it easier for individuals to exploit gaps
- most agencies were aware of their obligations under the Protected Disclosure Act 2012 and had dedicated protected disclosures positions, but the mechanisms for reporting corruption were less clear.
One of the researchers and co-author of the report, Kym Kelly, says: “Strong leadership and management is integral in helping to build a culture that ensures honest behaviour and fair decisions, and encourages staff to speak out if they’re concerned about corrupt activities.”
So, how about it VPS, do you think enough is being done to make blowing the whistle easy, safe and available to anyone, anywhere?
And if not, as the evidence seems to suggest – how do we go about fixing this?
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For information about Corruption, IBAC – Corruption in Procurement, International Anti-Corruption Day (and what that means), the UN Global Compact, and Probity, please take a few minutes to view our slideshow below.
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(‘It’s a thin dividing line, Johnson. Let’s just ignore it.’ cartoon, www.CartoonStock.com )