Councils fail on corruption prevention, records

Separate reviews of local government across two states indicate that despite good intentions about corruption prevention and good record keeping, councils are failing to deliver.

A WA Auditor General’s report released on April 9 found local governments are falling down when it comes to record keeping, exposing themselves to unnecessary costs, inefficiencies and potential breaches relating to personal data.

WA Auditor General Caroline Spencer

The report says it’s not that the state’s councils don’t have perfectly good record keeping plans, but these are poorly implemented.

Auditor General Caroline Spencer on Wednesday tabled her report, which looked at the record keeping plans of 146 local governments and examined the record keeping practices of four of them in relation to human resources, planning approvals, health inspections, complaints and waste management.

Ms Spencer says good record keeping is essential for a well-functioning public sector and is a cornerstone of good governance.

However the four councils reviewed  – City of Canning, Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council, Shire of Toodyay  and Town of Mosman Park – were “not effectively implementing” their record keeping plans, she said.

“Our audit reveals a trend where record keeping is not front of mind or adequately embedded into local governments’ day-to-day business practices,” Ms Spencer said.

“Too often records management is treated as an additional task rather than being integrated into normal business practice. Unfortunately, this audit tells a similar story.”

The report also noted that records are often being held for too long, raising the prospect of an impending “digital landfill”.

Holding on to records for too long can result in inefficient searches, unnecessary storage costs and potential personal data breaches.

“If records are held too long, record searches can become inefficient and agencies can potentially expose themselves to incidents of personal data breaches if they store sensitive records beyond prescribed periods,” the report says.

Ms Spencer said the four councils had accepted the audit findings, although one said it was a challenge for smaller councils to “find a balance between cost and benefit in relation to records management controls.”

Corruption risks

Meanwhile a March 28 report by Victoria’s corruption watchdog, focusing on integrity and anti-corruption frameworks in local government, came up with a similar theme.

Victoria’s councils manage about $84 in public assets and spend around $7 billion to provide services each year.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) honed in on corruption risks relating to procurement, cash handling, conflict of interest, gifts, employment and misuse of assets and information.

A review of six councils found that while integrity frameworks – including risk management, deterrents, detection measures and training – were in place they weren’t translating into practice.

“Corruption in local government can lead to increased costs and reduction in economic growth, diminished trust in councils and jeopardise the delivery of valuable programs and services,” it said.

“Victoria’s councils have an important role to play in the provision of services at a local level.

“If there is corruption, it robs the community of much needed funds to support front line services. Corruption hurts us all.”

Corruption in procurement was identified   as an ongoing risk with common vulnerabilities including conflict of interest, lack of supervision and failure to comply with policies.

The report recommended that local government develop a supplier code of conduct similar to that used by the state government.

Resources on good record management for councils are available here, here and here.

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2 thoughts on “Councils fail on corruption prevention, records

  1. While compliance and governance remain focused on process over substance. While education and training remain inadequate those who choose to manipulate the system will and the system itself is often a paperwork roadblock to best practice.

  2. Could not agree more with Carolines comments however I will say there are many Local Government Agencies out there that are doing great things to minimise risk, strengthen and have great records and information management processes. You are always going to have people out there willing to “try it on” but provided you have policies, strategies and operational processes (including training and education) in place and are all linked together as to outcomes expected you will be well on the way. As to compliance it starts at the top in that the relevant legislation in each state must have a penalty regime built into to it to reflect clear outcomes as to what will happen to executives and CEO,s if deliberate malfeasance occurs. It also starts with the education and training of this group into what the value of information brings to the organization particularly in this digital age. If there is clear understanding of this I am sure that RM will not be seen as just a backend support process and dollars will cease to be taken from what is seen by some as corporate services not producing a valuable return. Hopefully it will produce an increase in budget, as it should. Trust you will have a good read and have a good day

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