Anti-corruption challenges – could you spot a trusted insider?

Most of us have played variations of “spot the difference” – like the classic game of Where’s Wally? Identifying a concealed difference amongst a group of  people you know and trust can be much more challenging. In some cases, not understanding this challenge in the workplace can have devastating consequences for you and your colleagues.

This was the message conveyed by the South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption in a recent report which detailed two investigations of corruption in public institutions.

The report revealed how some signs of improper behaviour can easily be overlooked because the offenders were well liked and trusted by their colleagues.

Both offenders were in management positions having been promoted within their organisations during service periods of more than 10 years. Both were able to exploit their positions of seniority and trust to defraud their organisations of six-figure amounts through sustained manipulation of financial management systems.

In both cases, misplaced trust meant that tell-tale behaviour that should have been recognised as red flags of potential wrongdoing, was overlooked or treated as process anomalies when noticed. The fraudulent conduct was deliberate and repeated over many years.

Don’t become a “victim of corruption” – spot the difference early

Those who worked with the offenders reported that they had not considered their respected colleague to be capable of such behaviour, and were deeply shocked when they discovered what had been occurring. Some described the realisation as devastating and expressed feelings of transferred guilt.

The Commissioner characterised the offenders’ colleagues as ‘victims of corruption’ and made the following observations:

  • Corruption prevention activities can reduce the risks associated with corruption, including its adverse impact on staff morale and welfare.
  • Promoting awareness within an organisation of the personal harm to work colleagues and friends may in itself deter some potential fraudsters from offending.
  • Similarly, awareness of the inherent harm caused to others can challenge residual tolerances for even low level corruption within a workplace and encourage colleagues to speak up about integrity concerns.
  • Workplace attitudes that underestimate the emotional ramifications of corruption may make an individual’s reaction to corruption seem unusual or unjustified and may discourage them from reporting.

Most people act in an honest and ethical way, but within every organisation there is potential for trusted insiders to hide behind that sense of mutual integrity and for fraud and corruption to thrive. A mature workplace environment is one where a culture of integrity prevails and everyone understands and actively participates in the anti-corruption challenge by being alert to the need to "spot the difference" early.

Controlling fraud and corruption at the University

The University does not tolerate fraud or corruption and expects that all personnel will exercise the necessary oversight and effort required to reduce the risk of fraud and corruption at all levels of the University's operations. These obligations are set out the University’s Fraud and Corruption Control Policy and Plan.

You can brush up on your knowledge and build confidence in identifying fraud and corruption by revisiting the Fraud and Corruption Control online induction course. You can find information about reporting wrongdoing on the University’s Integrity and Accountability Framework website. Reports of fraud or corruption can be made in a number of ways, including under the University’s Whistleblower Policy.

University staff, consultants and contractors are considered Public Officers under the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012 SA and have a responsibility to report any suspected or actual fraudulent or corrupt activity in their workplace. For more information visit the website of the Office for Public Integrity.

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