The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption has had health in his sights for several years, but Lander told a parliamentary committee hearing this morning he had seen no discernible improvement in the agency’s culture since he published his own report late last year.
That report – Troubling Ambiguity – detailed a raft of concerns, including a professional culture that enables corruption – but Lander was denied additional funds to carry out a formal evaluation.
He said today he maintained that was a mistake by the Marshall Government.
“I think the Government was wrong not to provide me with the funds necessary to go out and undertake an evaluation – I think Health would have been a better agency now had that evaluation been carried out,” Lander said today.
He said the Government had believed it “would take too long for the evaluation to occur and they wanted to get on with addressing the problems with Health before that time”.
But, he argued, “I think there was a good opportunity at that time to do an evaluation [given] the problems that have been within Health for a number of years”.
“They’ve not been addressed… they were allowed to fester [and] they’re getting worse,” he said.
Lander told the inquiry his office has “still got live investigations into SA Health – but I can’t tell you what they are”.
“I’m precluded from doing that,” he said.
Asked whether they were live matters investigating criminal activity within SA Health, he said “Yes”, adding: “For corruption it has to be criminal.”
Asked whether the inquiries included issues of procurement, record-keeping or people working in unspecified roles, he said they were “across the board – without giving anything away”.
“I think I can say all the matters we’re investigating now are at the more serious end of the spectrum,” he said, adding that was either “because of the actual conduct or the person who is suspected of engaging in the conduct makes it serious”.
The Government’s response to Lander’s initial report was to announce an inter-agency taskforce – dismissing calls for a Royal Commission into the department.
The taskforce is headed by Premier’s Department boss Jim McDowell and also includes Health CEO Chris McGowan.
Lander was measured about the taskforce, saying McDowell was “very able” and adding “I’ve got some time for [McGowan] as well”, without commenting on its other members.
However, he noted that “there’s no evidence yet that the taskforce has been able to turn around the problems in Health” – although he added this was unsurprising.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d see great change because… the taskforce has to identify the problems and determine how they’re dealt with, and I wouldn’t expect that had happened by now,” he said.
He did note that “I’ve got no reason to think clinical care in SA has been compromised in any way”, enthusing about SA Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in particular.
“Poor record-keeping will always give rise to potential corruption and maladministration [and SA Health’s] record keeping is still incredibly poor,” he said.
“Health is a significant risk for government, mainly because of the size of the budget and the powers within Health itself…
“When I wrote the report I thought a considerable amount of work needed to be done, and that’s still my view.”
Lander also announced last month he was investigating the “conduct of a number of Members of Parliament in respect of claims made by them for payment of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance”, revealing he would broaden his inquiries to include all claims made over the past decade.
He told reporters today he hoped to conclude that inquiry within a month – before he steps down from the ICAC helm on September 1 – but declined to comment further.
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