A recent investigation by the Western Australian Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) highlighted the importance of the declaration of personal interests that are likely to conflict with the interests of a public sector organisation by public sector employees.
In this case, an officer of the Department of Mines and Petroleum became romantically involved with the owner of a consultancy group which provided environmental services to the Department whom she appeared to have met in the course of her employment with the Department. While she was employed by the Department, she provided confidential information and even ministerial correspondence to the consultant noting in her email "Í thought you might find this useful/interesting. Highly confidential of course”.
She also authorised payment for work that had been done by a consultant that hadn’t actually been completed.
The CCC found the officer had engaged in corrupt conduct and serious misconduct on a number of occasions including that she acted as the quasi manager of the consultant's company while she was engaged with the Department entering into the contract with this consultant.
To make matters worse, when questioned by the investigator, the officer mislead the investigator about the relationship that she had with the consultant and the fact that she took copies of documents and correspondence with her when she left the Department.
Needless to say, this officer is no longer employed by the Department.
How to manage conflicts without killing romance stone dead
Councillors and Council employees are required to declare and manage conflicts of interest in accordance with the Local Government Act 2009, Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 and Australian Accounting Standards when it comes to related third parties as was the case here.
The Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 2 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 currently before the Parliament is also set to amend the provisions dealing with conflicts of interest, prescribed conflicts of interests and declarable conflicts of interest specifically with respect to Councillors.
Good policies on the procurement process and making sure that all officers have a good understanding of their obligations and responsibilities goes a long way to protecting the Council and community interests and maybe even the personal relationships of employees.
Our lawyers have drafted robust policies and procedures specifically with respect to local government procurement and provided training and workshops for Councillors and officers specifically about conflicts and management strategies. Contact us if we can assist your Council here.