Ombudsman releases casebook of bad behaviour in public sector

The manager of a government department who took the equivalent of 40 days leave on full pay without approval, and even faked an on off-site meeting, features in a new report highlighting  how people in public roles shouldn’t behave.

Deborah Glass

The manager’s unapproved but fully paid absences occurred over 18 months, and exceeded their actual leave entitlements by almost 20 days, the Misconduct in public organisations casebook, tabled on Wednesday by the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office, says.

The report focuses on seven previously unpublished cases where allegations of misconduct were substantiated, or where systems failed.

The manager, who attempted to hide their absences from their boss, and who submitted a fake report about a meeting they never attended,  blamed a relationship breakdown and carer responsibilities for taking time off.

The report said the misconduct was able to occur because the senior manager didn’t see the manager on a daily basis, and therefore didn’t notice the absences.

The example highlighted the need for better ways of tracking staff absences, as well as the need to support employees who were struggling with personal issues, the report says.

Nepotism, slush funds and misuse of public money

Other case studies include the chair of a cemetery trust who gave grave digging work to their own business; a manager who rorted a recruitment process to get a mate a job and an organisation that used public funds to pay for alcohol, fines and funeral expenses.

In another example, a government organisation failed to mention in its annual report $33,000 spent on consultancy fees for communications advice on workplace bargaining, and used an ‘off-book’ bank account to hid the payments.

The undeclared payments occurred during a dispute with the union, which had raised concerns about the use of the consultancy. A senior executive confirmed the consultancy was engaged at the direction of a minister.

Education and mitigation

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said she hoped the cases contained in the report would educate public organisations about misconduct and how to mitigate risks.

“The cases discussed in this report show public organisations and people in public roles failing to comply with procurement, recruitment and financial reporting requirements as well as the terms of their own employment contracts and the VPS Code of Conduct,” Ms Glass said.

 “Its themes are, sadly, not new. Conflicts of interest, favouritism, and misuse of public funds continue to feature, as they have in previous Ombudsman reports. But the stories are different, and each holds valuable lessons from which others can learn.”

Some of the cases occurred a number of years ago and many of the organisations had since lifted their game, she said.

“While we continue to see positive developments in education and policy across the sector, there are still further improvements that can be made and lessons that can be taken from these examples.”

In 2021-22 VAGO received 92 allegations about conflict of interest, favouritism or discrimination; 55 allegations about the misuse of position, 27 allegations about misuse of public information or materials and 20 allegations regarding the misuse of resources.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at [email protected].  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Related Posts