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Whistleblowers Wanted: Public servants urged to report "wrongdoing"

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Anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander has emailed tens of thousands of public servants across the state, calling on them to “comply with their reporting obligations” by informing his office of suspected maladministration in their workplace.

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In a missive sent to the state’s entire public sector email database, the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption laments that “many public officers are not meeting their ICAC reporting obligations”, blaming in part “the poor reporting cultures that exist in some agencies”.

“Public officers should never be discouraged from, or punished for, reporting wrongdoing to their agencies or the Office for Public Integrity,” he declared.

“It is vital that public officers be aware of maladministration when they encounter it, and comply with their reporting obligations to report when they have a reasonable suspicion such conduct is or may be occurring.”

The email followed the publication last week of Lander’s “Looking Back” report, which reflected on his six year’s as the state’s corruption watchdog. He also informed the Marshall Government that he intends to see out his term, which ends in August next year.

The report makes general observations about the poor reporting culture in the public service, declaring the bureaucracy is “plagued by maladministration and very poor conduct, both of which foster environments that make individual corruption possible and in some instances… extremely difficult to detect”.

At a media conference last week, Lander pointed the finger at SA Health as the agency most “riddled” with maladministration and likely corruption, later revealing he had already formally requested extra funding for a full audit of the department – but that the request was denied by Treasurer Rob Lucas.

In his public sector-wide email, Lander encouraged government employees to undertake a Conflict of Interest training course available on the ICAC website, saying “in my experience public officers remain confused about conflicts of interest, both actual and perceived”, and “fail to understand the importance of declaring and appropriately managing any conflicts that emerge”.

He said he hoped the Marshall Government’s new whistleblower legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, would “go some way to supporting and protecting public officers in reporting the corruption, misconduct and maladministration they encounter”.

“I also hope it will convince agencies more broadly to listen to their staff about matters that they should rightly be interested in and appropriately acting upon,” he wrote.

“While corrupt individuals are to be found in South Australian public administration, I remain of the opinion that more significant harm to public administration comes from maladministration… I have seen impropriety, incompetence and negligence regularly plague record keeping practices, poor and inappropriate administrative decision-making and leadership, and the mismanagement of procurement and recruitment systems, amongst many other functions of government.

“This is costing the South Australian public a significant amount of money.”

Lander urged all bureaucrats to read and consider his report, and “reflect on how public administration can be improved for the benefit of all South Australians”.

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