28 February 2011

The Western Australian Crime and Corruption Commission is prosecuting a former Health Department contracts manager and the director of an engineering company.  The circumstances relate to the manager fraudulently obtaining payment in the name of his private consultancy for work which was part of his salaried position. He is alleged also to have engaged the engineering company on building projects without following normal procedures.

This case highlights the risks agencies face if they do not have clear conflicts of interest policies, don’t ensure their staff are trained in complying with them, and then don’t aggressively police them. All private business interests are a potential conflict.  Most constitute secondary employment and must be specifically authorised to minimise integrity breaches.  There is an enhanced threat where staff engage privately in the same type of activities for which they are employed.  Where this involves contracting and procurement, there is a particular risk to good government.

An obligation to be trustworthy under the State Services Commissioner’s code of conduct includes the standard to “ensure our actions are not affected by our personal interests or relationships”.

The Commissioner provides guidance that we must be alert to the potential for conflict between our personal interests and the work of our organisation.

  • It is important that we do not act in a way that improperly benefits our family, friends or groups in which we have a personal interest.
  • We must not give preferential treatment to people we are connected with. This will preclude our taking part in employment selection processes, or having supervisory responsibilities, that involve another family member.
  • Any commercial activities, investments or other personal interests must not influence the work we do, and we must declare where our interests may conflict with our responsibilities.
  • Before undertaking additional employment, whether remunerated or not, we must get consent from our employer. We must also disclose any business we set up that will operate concurrently with our work in the State Services.

If we, a close family member, or long-standing friend, have significant financial interests in areas where we have to make decisions, we expect to declare these in an accessible register kept by our organisation.

What is required is to avoid creating any sense among reasonable, fair-minded and informed observers that we favour any party to a decision or that we are serving our own interests, and avoid anything that would make them feel there is a real danger of bias in what we do.