Today marks the United Nations’ annual International Anti-Corruption Day.
In recognition of the extraordinary worldwide disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s theme is Recover with Integrity.
South Australia has been fortunate. To date we have been spared the worst of the health, social and economic consequences of Covid-19 observed in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the consequences of the global pandemic on South Australians have not been negligible, and the economic effects and response will likely be managed by individuals and the state for years to come.
Corruption finds easy targets during times of crisis. The changes in focus and attention which are demanded by public emergencies often result in reduced levels of compliance, supervision and accountability. Standards can slip as more pressing demands are prioritised. Also people who find themselves under stress can act in ways that would not ordinarily be expected of them.
But while our priorities and focus are pulled in unexpected directions, ministers still sign agreements and disburse grants, public officials still make procurement decisions, police still use powers of detention and arrest, elected officials still rezone and sell land, regulators apply standards and issue notices, and finance officers still process invoices and payments in their millions. The exercising of public powers, the expenditure of public funds and the business of public administration goes on. So too the possibilities for corrupt conduct remain, and abuses of power and dishonest dealings are made easier by inattentiveness.
Governments around the world have taken extraordinary measures to stave off both health and economic disasters caused by the pandemic. Our state has also been compelled into unforeseen spending and program delivery. Necessary as all these changes are for our recovery from the pandemic, they must not fall prey to the deceitful and corrupt. All public officers have a job ensuring our integrity remains strong. Call out and speak up about impropriety in your agencies. We cannot eliminate or prevent corruption if it remains hidden.
Some government priorities may have shifted, but our intolerance for corruption must not.
Report corruption to the Office for Public Integrity.