Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Operation Fitzroy - learnings for integrity in procurement practices

Between September 2013 and October 2014, IBAC conducted an extensive investigation into alleged serious corrupt conduct by employees of a government department and statutory authority.

The investigation, dubbed 'Operation Fitzroy', involved 15 current and former public officials and government contractors being called to evidence during a series of public examinations conducted in the County Court of Victoria in mid-2014. These were the first such examinations conducted by IBAC since its establishment in 2012.

The IBAC report identifies a need for the Victorian public sector to learn from the findings of Operation Fitzroy and to strengthen measures to ensure integrity in public procurement.

As another year begins, it is timely for government agencies and departments to reflect on the findings of the IBAC report and consider whether their own existing procurement practices are adequate to safeguard against corruption.

Lessons from Operation Fitzroy

Public sector organisations are entrusted with a significant responsibility for public expenditure. With this comes an obligation to have robust measures in place to ensure integrity in procurement practices.

Solid organisational processes, and a good organisational culture, are cornerstones of good procurement practice.

The IBAC report identified a number of factors as contributing to corruption risks. Ensuring that departments and agencies have robust practices in the following areas will help protect against corrupt conduct and ensure integrity in procurement practices.

  1. Contract management. Good contract management practices are essential to managing corruption risks. It is good practice, for example, to continue to monitor projects once a tender process is finished and a contract awarded. Adequate performance monitoring, which continues beyond a tender process, may assist in detecting corrupt practices. Controls over sub-contracting arrangements are also important.
  2. Supplier due diligence. Due diligence must be conducted on suppliers who are awarded contracts. This enables departments to investigate any connections between individuals within the department, and companies that are being awarded contracts. There should be controls to ensure that suppliers have the necessary skills, qualifications, financial viability and experience to deliver the required goods and services. This will help ensure that value for money is achieved in government procurement practices.
  3. Training and expertise. Government employees with procurement responsibilities must have appropriate training, experience and adequate technical knowledge about the goods or services being procured. There should be ongoing processes for employees and contractors to raise concerns about procurement misconduct and corruption. There should also be ongoing education and training for all relevant employees regarding procurement policies and procedures, as well as associated corruption risks, and mechanisms to engage with suppliers regarding procurement policies and procedures, probity obligations, standards and requirements.
  4. Management of conflicts of interest. Departments must ensure that there are appropriate processes in place to manage conflicts of interest. This could include, for example, a register of interests in which department employees regularly record any relevant interests, training for identifying when conflicts of interests occur, and processes for referring contentious or difficult conflict of interest issues to management.
  5. Management of procurement staff. Managers of procurement officers must be appropriately trained in managing conflicts of interest and other corruption risks, and have appropriate managerial expertise. This will ensure that procurement staff are adequately supervised, and that staff activities are monitored and checked. It will also mean that red flags, which may indicate that improper or corrupt practices are occurring, are identified and acted upon sooner, rather than later. There must also be accountability of those at management level.
  6. Recruitment of management staff. There should be processes for screening prospective employees in potentially high-risk positions relating to finance and procurement, and re-screening regularly for appointed employees.
  7. Timeframes for delivery of projects. Tight timeframes and a culture of expediency may create corruption risks related to procurement planning, compliance and scrutiny of decisions. Regarding procurement policies as subservient to delivering significant programs of work as quickly as possible may lead to non-compliant or improper behaviour. The tension between meeting project delivery requirements and complying with procurement policies and processes must be monitored and managed appropriately.

The VGSO has a long-standing practice in public sector integrity, government procurement and public sector governance. We can assist you to ensure that your department or agency is protected against corruption risks, and conducts its procurement activities appropriately. With extensive expertise in public sector integrity processes, we can also provide advice and assistance with respect to department and agency responses to inquiries by bodies such as IBAC.

 For queries relating to any of the issues identified in this blog, please contact:

Julie Freeman
Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor
9947 1404

Alison O'Brien
Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor
8684 0416

Sophia Angelis

Handy resources for procurement

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