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Monday, August 02, 2010

ICAC recommends Parliament look again at corruption risk in payments to members

And more transparency should be part of the response.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has questioned whether the NSW Parliament has in place a sufficiently comprehensive program to identify and manage corruption risks in relation to the use of Members’ allowances and entitlements. Buried away in findings of corrupt conduct against former NSW MP Karyn Paluzanno and members of her staff, the Commission Report (Chapter 3 page 20) noted that a "new strategy" for scrutinising the use of entitlements, based on a review undertaken in 2008 and still in the process of being implemented, is entirely audit focused.
"It is the Commission’s experience that audit programs are often not designed to or capable of detecting corrupt conduct."
The Commission recommends the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly consider whether the program "has the capacity to detect corrupt conduct and, if not:
develop, implement and regularly evaluate a corruption prevention strategy that includes:
• a comprehensive risk assessment of the corruption risks in relation to the use of Members’ allowances and entitlements
• a corruption risk management plan describing the corruption risks identified and the strategies Parliament will adopt to manage each of these risks
• measures capable of detecting corrupt conduct and non-compliance by Members and electorate office staff."
Without spelling out the detail in this report, the Commission advocates that corruption risk is best managed by identifying and managing in a comprehensive manner those organisational features that allow corruption to occur and possibly go unnoticed or unreported. Proper accountability, and appropriate transparency form an essential part of any such plan.

As pointed out here, the NSW Parliament (and most others) fails expectations in this area. Despite claims for improvement and acknowledgment of the public interest in greater transparency in this speech by the Speaker of the Assembly Richard Torbay (at least the Members Handbook is online these days), there is no routine public disclosure of information in NSW about payments to or on behalf of members of parliament, other than global figures published in the annual report. The presiding officers, and the government dismissed the suggestion by the Ombudsman in February 2009 that consideration be given to extending access to information laws to the parliament, which should be the case in respect of matters of an administrative nature including the use of public money. Hooray for Tasmania, Australia's only jurisdiction to take such a step!

The NSW Parliamentary Privilege and Ethics Committee currently has a reference to review the Members Code of Conduct. and ICAC has given the clerk something to think about. There are plenty of strands for the committee, presiding officers, the clerk, and members of parliament to be collected here if any are really serious about transparency-let alone corruption prevention.

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