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Friday, March 14, 2008

Local Government: too much public business in private

No we are not talking about Wollongong or any of the other NSW councils much in the news recently.

The Victorian Ombudsman has released a report on Conflict of interest in local government (1.7MB) with a range of recommendations for improvement in governance. The Ombudsman says that conflict of interest is part of a broader problem of public sector ethics and is an important factor in the weakening of citizens' trust in public institutions.

Lack of transparency is part of the problem, with some decisions often made inappropriately in private. (See page 18-19):

“Removing discussions and decision making from the public arena leads to the promotion of private interests and the corruption of proper administration.

Situations must be avoided where councillors, meeting informally and in a context where there is no requirement to declare any conflict of interest, influence the proper decisions and actions of the council officers”.

There is a similar broad ranging report by the Ombudsman and Macquarie University on conflict of interest in the state public sector.

There are echoes of the issues identified in these reports in other jurisdictions throughout the country. Victoria however may have some special problems given the absence of an anti corruption commission.

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