Corruption and maladministration both pose a threat to integrity in government, as noted by Mr Robert Needham, Chairperson of the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission. Investigation of corruption allegations and malpractice requires cooperation between Ombudsman offices and anti-corruption agencies: ‘It’s only through working together that both agencies can best utilise resources and powers’, he said.
Some issues may be appropriate for investigation by either body—‘a decision which advantages one party and disadvantages another’, or ‘a breach of the trust placed in [a] public official as the holder of a public office’. Investigation of some other issues may require the use of special investigation powers that are not held by an Ombudsman’s office, such as coercive hearings, search warrant powers or surveillance powers.
Alternatives to investigation and criminal prosecution need also to be considered. An example mentioned by Mr Needham was the appointment of a financial controller where financial malpractice in a local council is suspected but is difficult to prove.
Dr A J Brown of Griffith University Law School, looking at Commonwealth arrangements for investigation of corruption, noted that ‘The Ombudsman currently is the primary integrity pillar … the Commonwealth’s only true “general purpose” independent integrity agency’. He predicted that in coming years the Ombudsman’s role will be enhanced, but it ‘… won’t be alone as a pillar of the Commonwealth anti-corruption system’.
Dr Brown talked of how poor decisions, systems or leadership, a negative culture or lack of supervision can lead to a higher risk of corruption.