Education department conflict of interest shows need for cultural change: Ombudsman

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"This investigation continues a long Ombudsman tradition of exposing conflicts of interest in the Victorian public service," Ombudsman Deborah Glass said today.

"A myriad of Ombudsman reports have made the point that those who work in the public interest should not receive an undisclosed private benefit," she said.

"At worst, this is corrupt, potentially criminal conduct. At best, it is wrong."

The Ombudsman has tabled a report in the Victorian Parliament into a former Education department executive found to have negotiated and accepted a high level job and shareholdings in a company while he was responsible for making funding decisions and investigating a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) with a close connection to the company.

Ms Glass says the case demonstrates the need for ongoing leadership on integrity matters within the Victorian public sector and that such behaviour will continue without widespread cultural reform.

"This case, and the many preceding it, highlight repeated instances of a failure to understand or manage conflicts of interest, and serve yet again to make the point that there are cultural issues within the public sector that must be addressed,’ Ms Glass said.

The investigation found that the executive had negotiated and accepted a high level managerial job and shareholdings in OzSoft Solutions Pty Ltd with a director of the RTO, BAWM, while employed with Skills Victoria, part of the then Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

In his role with Skills Victoria the executive had responsibility for funding decisions for BAWM.

The executive was also found to have dealt with a complaint about BAWM while employed with Skills Victoria and while he negotiated with a BAWM director and accepted a role at OzSoft Solutions.

The Ombudsman’s first recommendation is for an independent audit of any involvement of the former executive employee with BAWM and related RTOs while working at Skills Victoria.

The second recommendation is that officers responsible for decisions on funding and management of contracts with private companies sign statutory declarations regarding their personal interests and any conflicts of interest on a quarterly basis.

The Department of Education and Training has accepted both recommendations.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission provides clear guidance for public servants on potential conflicts of interest and how to manage them in its Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees. This guidance can be found on the Victorian Public Sector Commission website.

‘Leadership is critical," Ms Glass said.

"The leaders of the public service must demonstrate a personal commitment to the issue, to lead by example, to ensure their staff understand the importance of declaring and managing conflicts and to take action when such conflicts become apparent."

Report: Conflict of interest by an Executive Officer in the Department of Education and Training

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