Vic Ombudsman slams culture of denial

By Rob O'Brien

Local government continues to represent the largest number of complaints made to the Victorian Ombudsman, according to a report tabled in Parliament today.

In his 2010 annual report the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, revealed that his office had received 2,933 complaints from local government this year.

According to the report, issues raised included poor procurement and contract management practices; failure of governance; conflict of interest; staff misconduct; and, poor planning decisions.

In his 114-page report the Ombudsman also rounded on public officials for trying to influence his office during the process of investigations.

"Some agencies go on the defensive and attack my office or staff without a full appreciation of the details and circumstances," he said.

"It is disappointing that such agencies thus expend valuable time and resources rather than focusing on improvement and reducing opportunities for poor administration or indeed corrupt conduct in their organisations identified through my investigations."

Mr Brouwer criticised the culture of denial in organisations under investigation who sought to "intimidate the investigator and undermine the merits of the investigation, rather than to acknowledge and deal with the issues which have been identified.

“This is particularly the case where I had found wrongdoing by elected officials, especially in a political context as in the case of the Brimbank City Council.”

According to the report, the past year has been the busiest in the history of the Ombudsman with a total of 21,074 approaches.

Complaints have increased by 13.2 per cent to a total of 11,737 complaints, the report said.

However, the report highlighted the crucial role of the Ombudsman in the cultural shift in public organisations.

Of the 10 reports tabled in Parliament between July 2006 and June 2008, 93.5 per cent of recommendations made by the Ombudsman were either accepted or under consideration by the agency concerned.

“My recommendations following the investigation of such disclosures have led to changes in policies and processes and to some attitudinal and cultural change, reducing the risk and opportunities for corrupt conduct to occur in the future,” Mr Brouwer said.

The Ombudsman also highlighted the crucial role of whistleblowers in examining corruption, with whistleblower complaints up by more than 80 per cent this year.

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