Managers at all levels should be accountable for the actions and work of their staff in the workplace. They have a key role in preventing and detecting corruption. However, in order to do so, they need to be proactive in their management styles. They need to actively supervise their staff and have measures in place which inform them about what their staff are doing and how they are doing it.

The role of supervision and checking in detecting corruption

It is the ICAC's experience that effective supervision and checking practices are essential strategies for detecting corruption. They are also essential corruption prevention strategies as they reduce the opportunities for motivated individuals to behave corruptly.  In 2007, the ICAC reviewed 63 public investigation reports in which it had made findings of corrupt conduct.  The review found that inadequate supervision or checking of work was a factor that contributed to the corrupt conduct in 45 of these reports.

What do managers and supervisors need to know?

Be aware of corruption risks and indicators

Supervisors should be alert to the risk of corruption in their areas of responsibility. In order to be able to identify corruption, supervisors need to have an understanding of what corruption is and how it can occur.  They should be aware of things that might constitute red flags, such as increased numbers of complaints from suppliers or customers or accounting reconciliations that don't balance. Corrupt conduct is more likely to continue undetected if the relevant supervisor is not alert to the possibility of corrupt conduct and is unaware of the corruption risks in his or her own area of responsibility.

Actively supervise staff

As well as being aware, supervisors also need to actively supervise their staff. They should have systems in place to aid them, such as rosters and work schedules.  Direct supervisors should have a reasonable understanding of each staff member's level of skill, attitudes and overall performance. They should be alert to signs that staff are experiencing difficulties in the workplace or require assistance. They should maintain an active involvement in the working life of their direct report staff by regular, meaningful contact for example through regular contact, supervision meetings and performance review.

Check work

Managers should be accountable for the work in their areas of responsibility. They should have checking processes in place to ensure that work performed in their areas of responsibility is correct and undertaken in the manner expected by the agency. For example, managers and supervisors should not approve invoices or monthly reports without first checking their correctness.  Managers should also have regular and/or random work review processes in place.

Data analysis techniques are discussed in the Internal audit and work review module. They provide a way that an agency can use its data to detect corrupt conduct. However, data analysis should not only be used by auditors. Line managers can also use simple data analysis tools and techniques to extract information that may indicate fraudulent activity in their areas of responsibility. For example, by running available computer reports and checking for anomalies or patterns.

Case studies

Case study 1: Supervision

A manager of major works for his department influenced the awarding of contracts to companies to which he was directly linked either through family or associates. He was able to manipulate tender processes in the following ways:

  • he involved himself in all stages of the tender process (scoping, valuing, advertising, reviewing, selecting and contracting)
  • he approved contracts to family and friends that were grossly under the agency estimate for the work (thus ensuring their selection) and then approved variations which substantially increased the initial cost of the contract (in one instance in excess of 900%)
  • he approved variations to contracts involving family and friends without supporting documentation explaining why the additional work was required and without approved agency valuations to properly assess the cost of the work
  • he approved variations over and above his delegated financial authority
  • he prepared attend a bid on behalf of his son's company for consideration by himself.

The manager had declared an interest or association with some of the bidders but had not disqualified himself from considering or awarding tenders to them. His managers did not disqualify him or make any attempt to manage his obvious conflicts of interest. He was effectively allowed to run his own show through lack of supervision and an absence of proper checking or review processes. In response to the issues identified by the ICAC, the department reviewed its contract practices, quality assurance systems, code of conduct and supervision and accountability of senior managers.

Some other examples, taken from ICAC investigation reports, of poor supervision which contributed to corrupt conduct:

  • Counter staff were able to avoid proper checking procedures when granting licences without the knowledge of supervisors
  • A public official was not supervised in his work with a contractor even though it was known he had recommended the firm and was supporting its claim for higher rates. 
  • A supervisor allowed his staff to participate in some inappropriate activity, such as selling scrap material. In addition to this sanctioned activity, the staff were also involved in other corrupt activity which the supervisor was either unaware of or unable/disinclined to stop.
  • A public official was subject to minimal supervision because of his seniority.
  • Staff were inadequately supervised because they worked at an isolated work location, far from their supervisor.
  • A public official's reporting lines were ambiguous so he was largely unsupervised.
Case study 2: Checking

A government agency noticed some suspicious refund transactions. Following an internal audit investigation, the agency found that over two years a long-term employee had arranged 32 fraudulent transactions totalling $320,729. The employee had worked with accomplices outside the agency and shared the money with them.

The employee was able to get away with fraud because she had assumed the status of a 'resident expert'. This occurred as a result of her length of tenure (25 years) and consequent specialist knowledge and expertise.  Due to her expert status, her manager gave her more autonomy than other staff and did not monitor and check her work adequately.  She was aware of this and exploited it. 

Some other examples taken from our investigation reports of poor checking practices which contributed to corrupt conduct:

  • A planner's manager either did not identify or take action about the number of referrals the planner made to his brother's architectural firm.
  • A manager relied on his staff member's summary of a consultant's report and failed to note a misleading inaccuracy.
  • A manager failed to ensure that certifications by staff of work completed by contractors were accurate.
  • Client Services Officers were able to make decisions about eligibility for priority assistance without any external review of the decision by the team leader.
  • An inspector's supervisors did not properly review his reports.  As a result, they did not identify the inappropriate personal opinions in his reports and supported his recommendations which were designed to favour a friend.
  • Despite claiming that he did regular checks, a public official's supervisor never identified that he was frequently leaving early from overtime on the weekend.

Frequently asked questions

A supervisor can't be everywhere all the time. How can I be expected to know what my staff are doing?
This is why you need good systems in place (such as regular work checks, staff rotations, double-handling, data analysis, audits, etc) that reduce the opportunities for corrupt conduct and maximise the chance that it will be detected quickly if it does occur.

Related topics on this website

Internal audit and work review