In a presentation to 35 members of the Local Government Risk Advisory Group earlier this month, Corruption and Crime Commission Manager of Corruption Prevention, Phillip Barden said that coming to grips with misconduct risk in local government is a challenge which requires continuing commitment and priority.
“Managing misconduct and misconduct risk is directly connected to good service delivery and good business outcomes – the very things on which local government prides itself,” explained Mr Barden.
“There is no doubt local government is a complex operating environment,” he said. “In fact it could be said that local governments individually and collectively provide a wider and more diverse range of services than any other single public sector organisation.”
“From the Commission’s work to date, it seems apparent that the identification of misconduct as a risk and the implementation of appropriate remedies are still problematic, though steps in the right direction are being made by some councils.”
“The misconduct risk can present in many different ways and across a range of behaviours. It naturally relates to the diversity of services and functions associated with the business of local government. These wide ranging activities include infrastructure and property services, the provision of recreation facilities, health services, community services, building services, planning and development responsibilities, the administration of infrastructure facilities, and cultural facilities and services.”
"In the course of delivering these services local governments engage in a constant process of 'approving',' refusing', 'considering', 'providing', 'facilitating', 'promoting', 'regulating', 'assisting' and 'advising' and necessarily exercise considerable authority and broad discretion."
“It is in these circumstances, that, in the Commission’s view, local government is more widely exposed to misconduct risk than perhaps any other area of the public sector,” said Mr Barden.
Some of the more serious misconduct matters we have seen in local government in recent times not only in Western Australia but nationally include:
- large scale corruption and fraud involving procurement and contracting of services for capital works maintenance;
- large scale fraud and theft involving misuse of corporate credit card and widespread misappropriation of council funds;
- corruption and fraud with regard to the procurement of building maintenance services;
- theft across a range of circumstances - by carers from care clients; materials, tools and equipment from works;
- cash from recreational facilities;
- improper influence;
- abuse of position for sexual favour; and
- abuse of position to create advantage.
“We need to acknowledge that this is an issue,” reinforced Mr Barden. “Because without appropriate steps being taken to address the prospect that misconduct risks exist within the business activities in which they all engage, it is difficult to imagine that much will change in the sector and local governments will continue to be surprised by the events that envelop them.”