Thinking | 10 July 2020

The exposure of corrupt behaviours can only lift public confidence in government decision-making functions

Reducing corruption is critical to building public confidence in government decision making processes, writes Stan Kondilios, Partner and expert in public sector governance.

The exposure of corrupt behaviours builds confidence in the community’s engagement with government, which then allows government to implement its stated policies effectively and with integrity. Public confidence in government decisions sends a message as a community that we won’t stand for corruption, and we will work to expose it and reduce it as a community.

The public sector has shown it can reduce corruption through consistent practice in disciplines around education, training, whistleblower protections and through robust policies and procedures, which may collectively reduce the risk others will join in corrupt behaviours.

Confidence in government decision making always takes a dive when corruption occurs in the public sector. Decision-making functions need to be seen and understood to be fair in a democratic society so that we can function with confidence in our communities.

If confidence in the public sector’s decision-making function is eroded then so is the trust in that process, creating a vortex of self-feeding, corrupt behaviours and decisions which will never be in the public interest.

A difficulty is the ever-evolving nature of corruption. It can be right under your nose and you wouldn’t know it. Corruption does not necessarily involve cash transactions or exchanges as we often see in the movies. Usually, corruption is more subtle: we are now seeing more behaviours in quid pro quos across unrelated transactions, making detection all the more difficult.

Public engagement is crucial to assist in detection of corrupt behaviours. Maintaining public confidence in the processes of finding and eliminating corruption is a huge challenge – we must ask: Does the criminal justice system satisfy the community desire to root out corruption? I’m not sure that it does.

The criminal justice system is not geared toward the investigative phase, which is why we have separate and specialist bodies created by statute such as ICAC in New South Wales, and IBAC in Victoria. These bodies have the ability to refer matters to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after the investigative phase.

The inquisitorial system in the investigative process is best suited in fact finding efforts to reduce corruption. The adversarial system is best suited for trial, but not in the investigative phase.

The public hearing component of a corruption case will give the public confidence as to the exposure of corrupt behaviours.

The public hearing process is an opportunity to communicate and educate. When done properly, and affording procedural fairness to people, public hearings allow us to understand the truth and to locate corrupt behaviour.

The public will only engage if they know that the process is genuine and has the ability to expose corrupt behaviours.

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Stan Kondilios

Stan has been providing legal services to Local Government in NSW since 1996 and practices primarily in the areas...

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