Use of resources

Public resources are those items that are paid for, owned, or controlled by public sector agencies. Resources can be tangible, such as equipment or public housing, or intangible, such as a public official's time.

Everyone working in the public sector has a responsibility to act in the public interest and the effective, efficient and fair use of public resources is part of that responsibility. The appropriate use of public resources is fundamental to public agencies fulfilling their statutory responsibilities and obligations.

The deliberate misuse of resources is a breach of public trust and can constitute corrupt conduct under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. Allegations about the misuse of resources are amongst the highest level of complaints made to the ICAC. 

Corruption risks

A risk assessment of the use of resources by employees in a public sector agency may identify some or all of the following corruption risks:

  • An employee using public resources for their secondary employment – for example, their work time, vehicle, stationery, tools, email and telephone.
  • An employee providing confidential information to an outside person or agency without authorisation, and/or for an improper purpose including personal gain.
  • An employee using work vehicles and fuel cards for non-work purposes without authority.
  • An employee taking surplus materials from an agency work site. Depending on the agency's policy, this can amount to theft. It can also result in goods being deliberately over-ordered.
  • An employee falsifying timesheet, travel or accommodation records for personal benefit.
  • An employee purchasing personal goods or services on an agency's credit card outside the agency's credit card policy.
  • An employee changing or deleting information on an agency database to falsify a public record such as a birth date.
  • An employee using the internet to access inappropriate material, send offensive emails or for other activities banned in the workplace.

Managing corruption risks

As a minimum your agency should:

  • Introduce policy and procedures for the use of resources that contain elements listed in the Policy Development Guide and Checklist (see Tips and tools below).
  • 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.
  • Refer to the use of resources in all relevant corporate documents such as codes of conduct.
  • Include the use of resources as a risk to be assessed in the agency's corruption risk management process and reviewed in the internal audit cycle.
  • Include the agency's policy on using resources in employee inductions.
  • Ensure employees return resources, such as mobile phones and laptops, when they are no longer required for operational reasons or when they leave the agency.
  • Ensure that employees are not permitted to approve the allocation of resources to themselves.

The following record-keeping requirements should be included in the policy:

  • Maintaining records of when and to whom the agency's resources are allocated.
  • Conducting regular reconciliations of the use of resources allocated to employees such as credit card receipts, cab charge dockets and accommodation receipts.

Risk management strategies

Following your risk assessment of the use of resources also consider these risk management strategies:

  • Conducting random and regular audits to monitor the personal use of resources and ensure compliance with policy guidelines, for example, checking personal use of emails and calls from work allocated mobile phones.
  • Checking employees are appropriately supervised in their use of resources.

Case studies

 Case study 1: Systemic theft and misuse
An agency reported to the ICAC allegations that kitchen staff at a public hospital were stealing food from the hospital, leaving earlier than the times recorded on their time sheets and taking unauthorised breaks. The practice had been going on for some time.

The agency found that the culture in the unit was such that even the supervisors and other senior staff were involved in this inappropriate conduct.

There was also information that one of the kitchen staff in question had stolen other goods from the hospital.

The agency reported the matter to NSW Police, which then recovered the stolen goods. Two employees were dismissed and other employees resigned during the investigation.

Case study 2: CabCharge fraud

An agency reported that several fraudulent transactions had been made on a CabCharge card by an unknown employee. 

The card had been awaiting collection by another employee who was authorised to use the card. It appears that the employee who misused the card had access to the authorised employee's other documents, including this person's signature, as his signature had been used on the CabCharge dockets. 

The agency cancelled the cards and reviewed their internal security systems for handling CabCharge cards.

Frequently asked questions

Is it better to just ban employees from using public resources for personal use?  

It is up to each agency to determine this. However, the ICAC would generally recommend that limited personal use of certain public resources is permissible. This recognises that most public officers will at some stage make personal use of a public resource – for example, to make personal telephone calls or send  personal emails.  

The appropriate personal use of public resources should be set out in relevant policies, such as internet usage and regularly communicated to employees.

What should an agency do about surplus or low-value assets that employees may find useful? 

Misappropriation of surplus or low-value assets or what appear to be unwanted or forgotten items is theft.

A work culture can develop where the attitude is that it's okay for staff to take these items because "everyone does it, nobody wants this stuff, it has been forgotten, management doesn't seem to care". This may lead to deliberate over-ordering of items to create a surplus.

The disposal of surplus, including low-value material and assets, even to employees, should be done systematically according to a clear policy and appropriate controls.

Should an agency report every instance of the misuse of resources by employees to the ICAC under section 11 of the ICAC Act? 

This can depend on whether the agency suspects, or has determined, that the misuse of the resource was deliberate, rather than as a result of a mistake or negligence by the employee.

Section 11 of the ICAC Act requires the principal officer of a public authority "to report to the Commission any matter that the officer suspects on reasonable grounds, concerns or which may concern corrupt conduct".  The action the ICAC may take will depend on the seriousness of the misuse and/or whether it appears to be systemic. 

In many instances, the ICAC will advise the agency that it should pursue the matter itself. If the agency's investigation reveals corrupt conduct of a serious nature then the agency can report these findings to the ICAC.

Regardless of whether or not the ICAC takes investigative action the agency should apply its policy on the use of resources.


ICAC publications

Other publications

  • AS 8001 2003: Fraud and Corruption Control, Standards Australia, 2003 
  • AS/NZS 4360 2008 Risk Management Standard, Standards Australia, 2008 
  • Motor Vehicle Policy for NSW government agencies, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, October 2007
  • Policy and Guidelines for the use by staff of communication devices, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, January 1999

Relevant websites

Related topics on the ICAC website