Transparency and Anti-Corruption

7. A government department’s viewpoint

Departmental jurisdiction

Many of those that access this website, will not be politicians or Deputy Ministers. They will be public officials working within a department such as the Ministry of Mines and Energy. They do not have say in how other departments (such as the Ministry of Justice or the Police) operate. If the legislature has not taken some or all of the transparency and anti-corruption measures mentioned in the previous section and corruption is a problem in their department, what can they do?

Measures that may be implemented by an individual department to increase transparency and reduce corruption include the following:

Departmental code of conduct

If public service employees are not governed by an adequate code of conduct that is government wide in its application, that does not mean that an individual department cannot have such a code established as an administrative policy. Such a departmental code of conduct may not have available to it all the enforcement mechanisms that a general public service code might have. However, that does not mean that some intradepartmental rules or policies to promote transparency and discourage corruption cannot be put in place. Naturally, existing public service rules would first have to be carefully reviewed and any departmental code of conduct be designed to mesh with those rules. The topics that should be covered, either in national legislation or departmental rules or policies, are clearly and simply set out in The International Code of Conduct for Public Officials as described on the following page.

General principles

1. A public office, as defined by national law, is a position of trust, implying a duty to act in the public interest. Therefore, the ultimate loyalty of public officials shall be to the public interests of their country expressed through democratic institutions of government.

2. Public officials shall ensure that they perform their duties and functions efficiently, effectively and with integrity, in accordance with laws or administrative policies. They shall at all times seek to ensure that public resources for which they are responsible are administered in the most effective and efficient manner.

3. Public officials shall be attentive, fair and impartial in the performance of their function and, in particular, in their relations with the public. They shall at no time afford any unique preferential treatment to any group or individual or improperly discriminate against any group or individual, or otherwise abuse the power and authority vested in them.

Conflict of interest and disqualification

  • Public officials shall not use their official authority for the improper advancement of their own or their family’s personal or financial interest. They shall not engage in any transaction, acquire any position or function or have any financial, commercial or other comparable interest that is incompatible with their office, functions and duties or the discharge thereof.

  • Public officials, to the extent required by their position, shall, in accordance with laws or administrative policies, declare business, commercial and financial interests or activities undertaken for financial gain that may raise a possible conflict of interest. In situations of possible or perceived conflict of interest between the duties and private interests of public officials, they shall comply with the measures established to reduce or eliminate such conflict of interest.

  • Public officials shall at no time improperly use public moneys, property, services or information that is acquired in the performance of, or as a result of, their official duties for activities not related to their official work.

  • Public officials shall comply with measures established by law or by administrative policies in order that after leaving their official positions they will not take improper advantage of their previous office.

Disclosure of assets

  • Public officials shall, in accord with their position and as permitted or required by law and administrative policies, comply with requirements to declare or to disclose personal assets or liabilities, as well as, if possible, those of their spouses and/or dependants.

Acceptance of gifts or other favours

  • Public officials shall not solicit or receive directly or indirectly any gift or other favour that may influence the exercise of their functions, the performance of their duties or their judgement.

Confidential information

  • Matters of a confidential nature in the possession of public officials shall be kept confidential unless national legislation, the performance of duty or the needs of justice strictly require otherwise.

Political activity

  • The political or other activity of public officials outside the scope of their office shall, in accordance with laws and administrative policies, not be such to impair public confidence in the impartial performance of their functions or duties.

  • However, to ensure compliance with a code of conduct, it is not enough to prepare an distribute the code to departmental employees. Employees should be required to read the code and acknowledge in writing having done so. Departmental employees should also receive regular training on issues of integrity and on what each employee can do to ensure compliance by their colleagues in the work place. Written departmental policies or rules should also be established to set out appropriate disciplinary actions that may be taken for violations of the departmental code.

A complaints system should be established to enable departmental service users to complain about service or other irregularities to an independent complaints office and allow departmental employees to anonymously report alleged breaches of the code by their fellow employees. Often a “hot-line” telephone number is used to facilitate such reporting.

Appointing a transparency and anti-corruption champion

Given that members of the department all have individual line functions, it would not be surprising if anti-corruption concerns took second place to the performance of those line functions. For this reason, it can be useful to appoint a transparency and anti-corruption champion whose responsibilities specifically include monitoring and regularly reporting to the head of the department and/or the auditor general on these issues.

Disclosure of assets and liabilities by departmental public officials

If this type of mandatory disclosure has not been required by the national government, it can possibly be introduced on a departmental basis by an integrity pledge to be signed by departmental employees or included in a departmental code of conduct.

Spot audits

One of the hallmarks of an effective anti-corruption program is the periodic testing and review of the program’s effectiveness by using audits.

Anti-corruption audits act as a powerful motivator to promote compliance with anti-corruption program requirements, as well as detect and deter potential improper activity. Knowing that someone is looking and you might be caught doing something improper is clearly a deterrent, just as lack of monitoring could provide incentive or opportunity. Conducting anti-corruption audits sends a powerful message that management means what it says and is committed to anti-corruption compliance. Anti-corruption audits raise awareness, provide powerful feedback as to how the program is working and often uncover new risks not previously seen or appreciated.

Anti-corruption programs should be focused on areas of elevated corruption risk and test the effectiveness of controls put in place to controls such risks. And most importantly, such audits should be conducted by someone independent of the department being audited, such as the Auditor General or an independent accounting firm.

Integrity testing

Integrity testing is a term that is used to describe a range of activities designed to assess compliance with the integrity requirements of an office. In essence, integrity testing involves putting an individual in a simulated situation where corrupt behaviour can occur, and observing the individual's behaviour. Such a test can be arranged on a targeted basis as a result of specific intelligence about an individual or group, or on a randomised basis in order to provide a general deterrent. 

In a democratic society, it is unacceptable that government would engage in activities that encourage individuals to commit crimes. However, it is quite acceptable for government to observe whether or not one will commit a crime under ordinary and everyday circumstances. For this reason integrity testing must be carried out with the strictest discipline. Both random and targeted tests must be as realistic as possible in order not to expose the test-taker to a greater temptation than that to which they are normally exposed. The test should be carefully prepared to include detailed intelligence work about the types, situations, forms and amounts of bribes that the tested person might be exposed to.

Although integrity tests can be an extremely effective as an investigative tool as well as an excellent deterrent, courts do not always easily accept this method of collecting evidence.

Legal systems that provide for “agent provocateur’ scenarios should try and ensure that they are never deigned to instigate conduct that makes criminals out of those who might otherwise have reacted honestly in a given scenario. It is therefore important to ensure that the degree of temptation not be extreme and unreasonable. Many criminal law systems exclude evidence of an agent provocateur when the provocation is considered to be excessive. If public service salaries are extremely low, there is a risk that integrity testing will not be accepted as fair play by either the tested person or by the general public. In this case, the tests will be counter-productive and can serve to damage morale of those in the public service.

Active department oversight and monitoring

While delegation of departmental responsibilities can lead to efficiencies, such delegation should be balanced with active oversight of the department’s employees, especially in areas prone to corruption. Systems should be put in place to have employees reporting to supervisors on a regular basis on the progress of their work or lack of progress and the reasons for delays. Such oversight should reduce the apparent opportunities for corrupt employees to wrongfully delay the issuance of permits and licences so as to extort payments from applicants. It should also allow a supervisor the opportunity to discover why some permits are quickly approved without the department’s fully vetting procedure being followed. Basically, this is a case of setting up the department’s administration in such a way as to shed as much light as possible on areas of potential corruption.

Departmental procurement procedures

If a national government has not established a government-wide procurement policy, departments should develop their own. This is an area with a traditionally high prevalence of corruption that needs rules to ensure transparency and fair play for bidders for departmental contracts.

Whistleblower protection

If national government whistleblower protection legislation has not been legislated, a government department should administratively set up policies to implement such a program, or as much of a program as can be implemented, given the department’s limited jurisdiction.

Reforming departmental human resource policies

To the extent that the department is not subject to government-wide human resource policies, the department can ensure that systems for recruitment, hiring, retention, promotion and retirement of its employees are based on principles of efficiency, transparency, and objective criteria, such as merit, equity and aptitude. Such systems should include procedures for the selection and training of individuals for public positions susceptible to corruption and the rotation of such individuals to other positions; and promoting education and training programmes to enable trainees to meet the requirements for proper performance of public functions and enhance their awareness of the corruption potential inherent in the performance of their functions.