Community affiliations

All public officials have interests and affiliations outside their workplaces that can sometimes leave them open to the risk of corruption. 

ICAC investigations indicate that a shared cultural background or language can be used as a way to pressure people from the same background to act corruptly. Similar risks may arise from other social networks such as family affiliations or membership of political, religious and community interest groups.

In this context a public official might corruptly take advantage of someone who does not speak English or understand their rights in relation to public services. Similarly, members of a community or ethnic group may attempt to pressure other group members who hold public official positions to give them preferential treatment.

The improper use of community and ethnic affiliations to obtain favourable treatment by a public official can constitute corrupt conduct as defined in the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.


Corruption risks

A risk assessment of community affiliations may identify some or all of the following corruption risks:
 

  • An employee soliciting or accepting money/benefits to provide an unfair advantage to a member of their own community.
  • An employee being pressured to unfairly favour a member of their own community.
  • An employee providing false or confidential information to a member of their own community for personal gain.
  • An employee not following appropriate approval processes and/or exceeding delegation levels.
  • An employee covering up or failing to report corrupt conduct by individuals of their own community.

 

Managing corruption risks

As a minimum your agency should:
 

  • Include advice about managing community affiliations of employees in the agency's conflicts of interest policy and procedures.
  • Include in the policy sanctions for any breach of the policy and procedures. 
  • Review the policy every two years.
  • Train all relevant employees in the policy and procedures to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities.
  • Include community affiliations as a risk to be assessed in the agency's internal audit and corruption risk management processes.
  • Include the corruption risks of community affiliations in relevant corporate documents such as the agency's ethnic affairs policy statement.

 

Risk management strategies

Following your risk assessment of community affiliations you should consider these risk management strategies: 
 

  • Supervising, checking and reviewing processes to decrease the risk of collusion and favouritism.
  • Separating duties and supervision so that no one employee has full discretion over allocating resources, approving applications, and other relevant functions.
  • Using externally accredited translators and interpreters in preference to internal employees performing these duties.
  • Introducing a formal process for employees to declare conflicts of interest, and manage the conflict.
  • Providing information about reporting corruption in all relevant community languages.
  • Providing guidance material about the agency and the proper way to access its services in languages that are relevant to the community that the agency serves.

 

Case studies

Case study 1
In 2005 the ICAC investigated information received about a public sector registry manager engaged in misconduct in connection with the issuing of licences, mainly to applicants whose English skills were lacking. 

From 2002 to mid-2006, the officer colluded with a driving instructor to improperly assist between 50 to 100 applicants with their test and application process in exchange for unlawful cash payments and illegal drugs.

Findings of corrupt conduct were made against the registry manager and others.

The ICAC's recommendations included that applicants who require assistance with knowledge tests due to poor English language skills be assisted by accredited translators, the agency should keep records of any assistance provided by employees to applicants, guidance material should be translated into a wider range of languages and the development of procedures to assist applicants from diverse backgrounds and actions to encourage employees to report wrongdoing.
Case study 2

In 2004 the ICAC investigated the conduct of a clerk in a local court registry of a public sector department. The clerk sought and received unlawful cash payments from people involved in legal proceedings in return for purported assistance or advice, such as debt collecting services, arranging telephone surveillance and helping to obtain building certification. 

He also accessed and disseminated confidential personal information from the court's database. The victims of this scheme were from the same cultural background as the clerk. Many of them had a poor command of English and lacked awareness of the Australian judicial system.

In some instances the clerk was assisted by an associate who fraudulently posed as a police officer. The clerk and the associate were able to convince members of their community that they were in a position to assist with court matters and that it was not unusual to charge a fee for this service.

Findings of corrupt conduct were made against the clerk. Recommendations made in the report included that the department introduce a public awareness campaign to educate non-English speaking communities about the judicial system, and provide relevant training for all employees.

 

Frequently asked questions

How can an agency implement policies to address risks without appearing to be discriminatory, racist or targeting certain community groups?   

It is appropriate for you to consider whether your agency provides services to groups who could be exploited, disadvantaged or reluctant to use your services because of their ethnicity and language barriers. 

Alternatively you may have employees who could be pressured by people from groups in the community to which they belong. If so, some of the risk management strategies described in this topic may be worth considering. 

Otherwise the strategies that you would use for corruption risk management generally, such as levels of approval and the separation of duties, will help address this issue. 

Isn't the risk from community affiliations just another type of conflict of interest?   

Relationships with the community, family or ethnic groups are types of private interests that should be managed like any other potential conflict of interest. However, this type of conflict of interest may be overlooked by management. For example, employees whose roles are directly related to their ethnicity or community contacts, such as language interpreters and community or industry liaison officers, could be particularly vulnerable. 

Managers can support employees in these positions by being aware of the exposure to unusual pressure from community affiliations by the work they do and taking necessary action.

Resources

 

Other publications

  • Community Relations Commission Guide to Services Ethnic Affairs in the NSW Public Sector: Resource Handbook for Chief Executive officers and Senior Managers, Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW, 1998.

 

Relevant ICAC investigations

 

Relevant websites

 

Related topics on the ICAC website