Preventing corruption and building integrity through mandatory notifications

Chris Eccles, SChris Ecclesecretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet discusses the importance of mandatory notifications to building a robust integrity culture in the public sector.

‚ÄčThe Government came into office with a commitment to improve Victoria’s integrity and accountability system, which oversees the public sector’s conduct and performance through independent bodies including IBAC.

To acquit its commitment, the Government made reforms to improve the system that took effect in mid-2016. These reforms included expanding IBAC’s corruption jurisdiction to allow IBAC to
investigate a wider range of conduct.

As part of these reforms, the Government introduced a requirement for heads of public service
bodies and local Council CEOs to report suspected corrupt conduct to IBAC
 from 1 December 2016.

The importance of mandatory notifications is twofold. First, it has the practical benefit of furnishing IBAC with information about public service corruption and enhancing IBAC’s understanding of the types of corruption, and how and why they occur, within the public service. IBAC is heavily reliant on its intelligence gathering to expose and uncover corruption, which by its nature occurs in secret. The additional intelligence that IBAC will receive through mandatory notifications will help IBAC to identify serious and systemic issues and assess the matters that require an IBAC investigation or other action, such as a referral to the Ombudsman or Victoria Police.

Second, the shift in onus, from one of discretion to mandatory reporting, is of strategic importance. It reflects the Government’s view that building an integrity culture in the public sector is mandatory not discretionary, and that this is dependent on leaders being aware of what is happening in their organisation, encouraging reporting, and taking active steps if they suspect corrupt conduct is occurring.

To meet the new reporting requirement, public service leaders will need to take positive steps to ensure that they are made aware of any suspected corruption in their organisations and to embed a culture of integrity in their organisations.

One of IBAC’s key findings of its investigations into corrupt conduct within the former Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), now the Department of Education and Training (DET), was that a prevailing culture among senior officers within DEECD not only contributed to the conduct identified but also hindered opportunities to uncover and address that conduct sooner.

IBAC’s findings were a pertinent reminder to the public sector of the importance of an organisational culture that respects and promotes integrity.

In response to IBAC’s investigations, the Victorian Secretaries Board, the peak leadership group of the Victorian public service, reaffirmed its commitment to a robust culture of integrity and reiterated its expectations about ethical behaviour. It has committed to an action plan that promotes a robust integrity culture across the Victorian public service.

The Victorian Secretaries Board, together with its Corruption Prevention and Integrity Subcommittee, made significant progress in acquitting the action plan in 2016 and will continue to progress measures to strengthen integrity in the public service.

By cultivating a stronger culture of integrity, the public service will assist in preventing corruption, and be able to more readily identify and respond to corruption when it occurs.

The work of public servants has profound implications for the community and we are accountable to the community that we serve. It has never been more critical for the public service to foster and maintain public trust in the institution of government and government’s role in advancing the public interest. The introduction of mandatory reporting and the building of an integrity culture go to the heart of the compact between government and its citizens, and will play an important part in promoting accountability, ethical leadership and fostering a culture of integrity across the public service.