Probity: It is not just a task – it is a culture

By Chris Nash - December 8, 2017

Probity is an often nebulous concept and many do not appreciate the benefits of being able to identify and mitigate probity risks.

Providing staff with the right tools to both identify and manage risks provides protection for your procurements and your organisation’s reputation.

This is consistent with research released by the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) showing the findings of a survey of over 4,542 Victorian public sector employees. While three quarters of respondents agreed they would report misconduct, only about one third actually know how to report issues and the same number feared personal repercussion or job loss. In addition, previous IBAC research has shown that while most people could identify clear cut forms of corruption or misconduct, they struggled to identify other breaches of ethical conduct.

This leads to the question: is probity just a set of tasks or should it be seen as the culture of the organisation? There is a clear demonstration that people wish to act in an honest and ethical fashion, however the two barriers to achieving this are a lack of:

  1. Awareness around what exactly constitutes a breach of probity, and
  2. Confidence around controls, protections and support if breaches are to be reported.

With these findings in mind, Victorian public sector organisations have their work cut out for them in crafting the right culture in relation to probity. Here are five steps to creating a sound culture of probity in your organisation.

5 Steps to creating the right probity culture

1. Regular training in probity across the organisation

This includes informing people of policies and procedures that are in place in your organisation and how to use them. Training can help remind people of their obligations and provide confidence that the policies are actively referred to within your organisation. Training can be short, tailored to specific topics such as, conflicts of interest or, security and confidentiality and delivered in regular updates or business meetings.

2. Provide staff with a mechanism for “risk-free” advice

Ensuring staff have access to independent advice through advisors or establishing free help lines can help reduce the fear and uncertainty around raising potential breaches of probity. This must be in line with organisational policies and procedures and should be communicated to staff regularly.

3. Foster an environment of open dialogue about maintaining ethical conduct

The conversations we have around conduct help to shape cultural norms and expectations within organisations. Where appropriate, encourage the leaders in your organisation to discuss difficulties they may have in their roles with meeting probity requirements and how they overcame them. This may be around declining gifts and benefits from suppliers to highlighting the behaviour that is expected in these situations.

4. Ensure the right people are in the right seats

Too often we utilise staff without supporting them with the right training to manage procurements due to resource constraints. Ensuring staff involved directly with your procurement processes have the right skills and are provide training to address any gaps not only helps to demonstrate that your organisation is committed to good process, it also achieves the public sector probity requirement of ensuring there is appropriate capability allocated to all elements of the procurement process.

5. Get the right resources

The Victorian Government provides a wealth of resources around probity and procurement including open access to the Victorian Government Purchasing Board’s suite of 5 policies covering the end-to-end procurement activity, as well as procurement and probity professionals listed on the Victorian Government’s Professional Advisory Services Panel. If you organisation is ineligible to access providers under panel arrangements, you are still able to use the contact details provided to contact and contract with the practitioners listed.

This year has seen the Probity and Governance Team at Pitcher Partners Consulting undertake a series of tailored probity training sessions for a range of public sector organisations to provide their operational, executive and procurement staff with a greater level of understanding of the importance of probity. These sessions have been delivered to over 600 public sector staff across regional and metropolitan Victoria in this year alone. We would be pleased to discuss how we can assist you with tailored probity or procurement training. 

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