Corrupt public officers on ICAC’s radar – a cautionary tale for local councils

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has announced it will be holding a public inquiry on Monday 16 April 2018 into the conduct of a number of former Canterbury City Council public officials.

ICAC’s investigation – named ‘Operation Dasha’ – is examining whether, between 2013 and 2016, public officers including former Canterbury City councillors, the former general manager, and the former Director City Planning, dishonestly and/or partially exercised their official functions in relation to planning proposals and applications under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in the Canterbury City Council local government area.

ICAC is also investigating the former general manager’s appointment of the former Director City Planning, and whether two councillors engaged in conduct that adversely affected the appointment of the former Director City Planning.

The investigation reflects ICAC’s priority areas and trends in corruption reporting. At ICAC’s probity forum on 27 February 2018, ICAC staff outlined that over the last five years:

  • corruption related to development applications and land rezoning account for more than 10% of reports to ICAC, and human resources and staff administration account for more than 20% of reports
  • personal interests account for 15% of the most common corrupt conduct alleged in reports to ICAC and partiality accounts for 20% of reports.

ICAC has conducted a number of investigations in recent years into the conduct of council officers and staff in relation to the land use planning and development approval process. Such conduct includes cash payments from developers to expedite development application approvals,[1] issuing occupation certificates before all outstanding building requirements were satisfied, failing to report illegal development in return for inducements, and passing on confidential draft development assessment reports to developers.[2]

Corruption ‘opportunities’ in the provision of maintenance services is also a priority for ICAC with a number of council officers being investigated for corrupt conduct in their contracting of services. Such conduct includes false invoicing and payments for services not rendered,[3] and inducements or rewards for the favourable treatment of certain suppliers.[4]

It is clear ICAC is targeting public authority functions like the planning assessment process and administering service contracting where there may be a relatively small financial benefit received by corrupt officers, but over time the cumulative cost is high.

Councils should be proactive in identifying and managing corruption risks when carrying out their functions.

[1] http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/investigations/past-investigations/investigationdetail/190

[2] http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/investigations/past-investigations/investigationdetail/180

[3] http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/investigations/past-investigations/investigationdetail/215

[4] http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/investigations/past-investigations/investigationdetail/185

This post was prepared by Maddocks lawyer Jessica Dorricott

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