Why it can hurt more than corruption

As the name suggests, the South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption is charged with stamping out corruption in South Australian public administration. But that is not the only thing the Commissioner does.

Maladministration, which also falls under the Commissioner’s charter, is about the conduct of public officers and the practices, policies and procedures of public authorities, which result in irregular and unauthorised use of public money, the substantial mismanagement of public resources, or the mismanagement of official functions. It includes conduct that might be described as incompetent or negligent, but it is not criminal conduct.

It is the Commissioner’s role to deal with maladministration in South Australian public administration by either assisting inquiry agencies or public authorities to do so, or alternatively, investigating the matters himself by exercising the powers of an appropriate inquiry agency.

Dealing with maladministration is possibly more important than corruption because maladministration is more prevalent than corruption, it can cause more damage than corruption, and it is a breeding ground where corruption opportunities can be found and exploited.

In many cases corruption can only exist in the presence of maladministration. In a way the two are inextricably linked, with maladministration acting as an enabler. Although it is not impossible, it is difficult to steal large sums of money from an agency unless there is something wrong with the governance of that agency.

Maladministration does not always give rise to corruption, but it does make it possible. The impact of widespread maladministration can be far more damaging and financially costly than the opportunistic wrongdoing of corrupt individuals. Millions of dollars can disappear from publicly funded projects and agencies without a crime having been committed. Likewise poor, inappropriate and even incompetent decisions can be made, which have long term negative implications for public  administration in South Australia.

Maladministration can cost more and cause more damage than corruption; hence, the fight against corruption begins with the fight against maladministration.

Getting the house in order must be a priority for all public authorities.

This article was published in Issue 4 -  April 2016 of ICAC's newsletter.