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Managing fraud and corruption during coronavirus (COVID-19): New ‘corruption prevention advice’ issued

With corruption and misconduct shown to increase during times of upheaval and economic crisis, the NSW corruption watchdog has issued an in-depth guide to help prevent and manage such issues during coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)’s guidance ‘Managing corrupt conduct during the COVID-19 outbreak’ outlines key issues for the public sector and government agencies — and methods to help protect against any “unscrupulous employees”.

ICAC acknowledges that some government agencies “may have little choice but to depart from normal levels of control and supervision” during the pandemic — but this should not result in abandoning attempts to curtail corruption.

“The Commission appreciates that it may be difficult for agencies to maintain anti-corruption controls in their current form. Clearly, there are more pressing issues but the necessity to modify some controls should not justify abandoning attempts to prevent, detect and investigate misconduct. Even during a period of enormous disruption, agencies can take reasonable steps to protect public funds from misuse,” the guide states.

Minimising corruption risks when working from home

ICAC outlines in the guide why it is important for manager-employee interactions to be maintained while working from home to help prevent a potential increase in corrupt behaviour. Keeping up telephone and video contact with employees, not allowing general household use of agency IT devices and systems, and implementing protocols for using e-signatures are among the recommendations to help keep maintain integrity levels.

The Governance Institute has also issued a resource for members that looks at the issues to consider when dealing with flexible working arrangements, found here.

Cyber fraud attacks on the rise

With the incidence of cyber fraud attacks already soaring during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the guidance outlines how attempts to defraud have included criminals impersonating government agencies.

They recommend being on high alert to these risks with actions such as alerting customers to fraud risks, sending a reminder to employees to be cautious when opening email attachments, and to “challenge any suspicious requests for payment, even if it purports to come from a senior manager or the agency head.”

Returning to business-as-usual

Although it has been a time of great upheaval, in order to stamp out the growth of misconduct, ICAC recommends agencies revert their “control environment” to business-as-usual as soon as they can.

“Once this happens, it may be useful to direct audit activities towards identifying suspicious anomalies or exceptions that emerged during the pandemic.”

Coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus packages: Risk management

In the guide, ICAC urges those bodies tasked with overseeing and assisting with the roll-out of new programs designed to assist during the pandemic to be mindful of corruption risks and follow best practice.

“Articulate clear responsibilities and lines of communication. Corruption, mismanagement and waste can thrive if staff do not understand the plan and cannot be made accountable for their actions.”

Read the full guidance ‘Managing corrupt conduct during the COVID-19 outbreak’ here.

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