Fraud Prevention in Local Government

Audit finding – Better reporting avenues would help entities detect and respond to fraud

To be well informed, entities need to have strong systems to receive, capture and act on information about potential fraud. International research has shown that organisations most frequently detect fraud through informants (whistleblowers)[1]

We found that it was not always clear how staff, the public or suppliers should report suspected fraud. The entities we reviewed did not have ways for individuals to make anonymous reports of potential fraud, other than Public Interest Disclosures (PID) through the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 (PID Act). They also did not have a process in place to analyse all information they received about potential fraud. Entities may miss important information if reporting avenues are not clear or if reports are not analysed.

Entities need to better communicate how staff, suppliers and the public can report suspicious behaviour

At the entities we reviewed, Codes direct staff to report concerns of fraud to the CEO, deputy, or HR manager. However, there is no guidance for how a staff member would do this. Staff members may be reluctant to go directly to the executive on such a sensitive topic or when the suspicion relates to senior staff. The Standard highlights the need for formalised reporting systems and that these should include multiple avenues. Similarly, the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland has advised that employees will feel more confident in making reports if systems are readily accessible and well publicised[2].

The PID Act encourages people to report concerns of wrongdoing in the public sector. Individuals can report concerns to authorised officers or to 1 of the authorities listed in the PID Act (such as the Auditor General for concerns including substantial unauthorised use of public resources). Other external reporting avenues include the CCC, PSC or the Western Australia Police Force.

All the entities we reviewed had clear processes around making a PID and had PID officers in place. However, entities should not rely only on PIDs, as this does not capture all potential reports or allegations. Staff may not wish to engage with the PID process or may not have information suitable for an investigation. The PSC reported that local government entities received 13 PIDs in 2017-18[3]

Our questionnaire showed that many other entities could improve their reporting processes and protections. One third of respondents told us they did not have systems in place to protect staff who reported fraud. Of those that did have protections, 32% told us they relied solely on PIDs. Individuals may be reluctant to report concerns if they do not feel adequately protected.

Entities should include anonymous reporting options to encourage reporting

At the entities we reviewed, internal avenues to report suspected fraud did not include anonymous options. Both the Standard and guidance from other jurisdictions has raised the need for internal reporting to include options for anonymity. Making reports of wrongdoing can be difficult for some people and providing an anonymous option can make it easier.

We note that East Pilbara’s Plan directs staff wishing to make an anonymous complaint to external agencies, either the CCC or the PSC. While directing staff to appropriate external reporting options is important, in our view better practice would be for internal reporting to also have anonymous options.

Entities need to better use information they receive about suspected fraud

None of the entities we reviewed have a way to capture, collate and analyse all information about potential fraud. The Standard expects organisations to develop a program and recommends the development of a fraud register. Capturing information in a central location would make it easier for entities to look for trends, identify issues early and act appropriately. 

Entities have reported potential fraud to the CCC. The entities we reviewed told us they had reported 4 instances of potential fraud in the past 5 years.

[1] Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2018 Report to the nations: global study on occupational fraud and abuse. p4.

[2] Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission 2018 Fraud and Corruption Control: best practice guide p49.

[3] Public Sector Commission 2018 State of the sector statistical bulletin: Integrity and Conduct Survey results.

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