COVID-19 raises corruption concerns

Western Australia’s corruption watchdog has called on public sector heads to ensure integrity controls are not overlooked during disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The warning came as the state’s Corruption and Crime Commission released the findings of an investigation into allegations of bribery by officers within the state’s Department of Communities who were involved in allocating public housing.

The CCC says there’s a risk the usual public sector checks and balances will be overlooked while resources are being directed to the COVID-19 response and staff are working remotely.

“The Commission encourages all Directors General, managers and supervisors to ensure good systems, processes, and controls are not over-looked whilst government is working in different ways,” the commission says.

“All public sector agencies must continue to demonstrate the highest standards of integrity while also adapting and finding creative solutions to deliver government services in the current environment.”

Allegations of cash for housing

The report found the DoC had failed to adequately respond to a tip-off that employees may have been taking bribes from potential tenants.

According to the allegation by someone within the DoC, a departmental officer had been accepting up to $5,000 from tenants in exchange for allocating them a house.

Preliminary enquiries indicated that four public housing allocations “may have circumvented the approvals process”.

The CCC said despite starting an investigation in October 2017, “scant investigative avenues were explored” and the department concluded “prematurely” in July 2019 that there had been no serious misconduct.

The Commission found the DoC probe was unnecessarily protracted, disjointed and lacking “basic investigative competence”.

Departmental investigators identified two DoC officers who may have been involved in serious misconduct but only one was questioned. That person’s explanation as accepted despite “obvious gaps”, the report said.

The department has since established a governance, capability and reform division and a new integrity and standards unit.

The CCC says the lesson for all agencies is that it is up to them to manage the risk of serious misconduct and that heads of government agencies must have a strong integrity function.

The CCC says it will continue to investigate claims of serious misconduct and corruption throughout the pandemic.

“The Commission remains open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though it may not be business as usual,” it says.

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