Times of crisis bring out the very best of nearly everyone. Unfortunately it also brings out the few who look at this as a time of opportunity. From small scale scams on individuals to misuse of billions earmarked for aid, this is a time of great risk. There are lots of warnings, let's heed them.
Parliamentary monitoring and reporting is critical for COVID-19 responses
“The risk of fraud and corruption is compounded during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. When quick decisions are necessary to move vast amounts of resources, then bribery, fraud and corruption abound,” says Suzanne Snively, Chair of Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ). “We must anticipate this now to avoid dilution of our government’s relief and recovery efforts.”
Billions of taxpayers’ dollars are at stake. Unless policies designed to distribute money, include controls to weed out fraudulent claims and mandate oversight, we will not prevent the corrupt from redirecting resources for personal gain.
The Auditor-General reminds chief executives to get it right
In early April John Ryan, the Auditor-General, wrote to the Chief Executives of a range of public agencies, to remind them of getting the fundamentals right. Doing this is critical to managing the risks associated with the pace, scale, and complexity of responding to Covid-19. See COVID-19: Important governance matters to consider.
These fundamentals are relevant to any organisation in a time of crisis, but particularly the public service as it manages business as usual as well as the most unusual business we have faced in a long time. The Auditor-General highlights the importance of strong governance and effective systems and controls. This includes ensuring that the lines of accountability remain clear, with documentation around sign off, especially where emergency expenditure is being used or emergency powers exercised. Accountability is also achieved by tracking spending and providing reports on it.
John Ryan also alerts Chief Executives to the increased risk of fraud as a result of prioritising the pandemic. They can manage this risk by keeping a close eye on controls based on oversight, sign off, separation of duties and evidence of delivery. Cyber fraud is also likely to be on the increase especially with people working remotely, and there are certainly reports of increased phishing and attempts at cyber fraud. Staff need to be reminded and be mindful of these risks.
Because of the large drawings from the public purse, the Auditor General urges Chief Executives to be mindful of sensitive expenditure, and to always consider what is and is not appropriate use of public money. He encourages them to access the expertise available in audit and risk committees, for advice and support and for improving the risk management focus. The Auditor General also talks about managing risks to normal service delivery whilst the focus is on COVID response, and having a backup plan to ensure continuity of services, leadership and decision-making in the event of senior leaders becoming unwell.
Warnings from Civil Society
Access Info Europe and civil society organisations: Now more than ever: Transparency and Whistleblower Protection. In an open letter, they highlight the need for transparency so that citizens can scrutinise governments and businesses. They point to examples of wrongdoing that have already been exposed in areas including health system management and public procurement. They call on all public authorities to ensure and strengthen whistleblower protection during the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democracy Needs Protecting!
Serena Lillywhite, Chief Executive Officer of Transparency International Australia has an excellent article posted on their website, The health of our democracy also needs protecting in a crisis.
As Australia and the rest of the world deal with the deadly outbreak of Covid-19 and its economic fallout, many countries, regions and cities have declared a state of emergency. This has granted authorities extraordinary powers to try to prevent the spread of the virus. But at what cost to our democracy? Read the full article...
The rule of law matters even more during an emergency
Dr John Hopkins
Professor University of Canterbury
An article appearing in Stuff by Dr W John Hopkins demonstrates why the rule of law matters even more during the COVID-19 Crisis. He is a professor at the University of Canterbury Law School, specialising in law and disasters, and TINZ Director.
Dr Hopkins notes that: "The decision to trigger a state of emergency under the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act (CDEMA) on March 25 was unprecedented. Although there have been a number of such declarations in the past, no government has utilised the powers found in the CDEMA so extensively (alongside the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006) to place the whole country in quarantine. This dramatic response is to be commended but it comes with legal risks that need to be recognised." The full article is here.