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The National Anti-corruption commission commences – what tenderers need to know

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) formally began on 1 July 2023. It is an independent commonwealth agency with a mission to detect, investigate, and report on serious or systemic corrupt conduct in the commonwealth public sector.

Often clients wonder just how fair the tendering process is – is it who you know, do we need to lobby our position? Do we need to engage with local MPs to have a shot? These questions are warranted when there are many times we stand back and wonder how a particular contract was awarded!

In confirming the NACC’s jurisdiction as including corrupt conduct of commonwealth public officials, the organisation’s first commissioner, Paul Brereton, fired a warning shot.

“Much of the public debate has been concerned with parliamentarians, but the commission will also be concerned with corrupt conduct involving public servants, individuals engaged in assisting commonwealth agencies, consultants, and contracted service providers under commonwealth contracts,” Mr Brereton said. “Our focus will be on issues of corruption that are potentially serious or systemic.”

The NACC Act will likely consider most people who work for, exercise the powers of, or perform functions for the Australian Government or the Australian Parliament as public officials. This includes people and businesses responsible for providing goods or services, or who conduct functions under a commonwealth contract.

With procurement central to NACC investigations, public service leaders should ensure contemporary corruption prevention strategies are in place across all public sector agencies. It is essential these prevention strategies contain specific measures for procurement and contracting.

Federal public servants cannot afford to underestimate the personal career risk they face with the introduction of the NACC, particularly delegates or decision-makers in a procurement process. There is now a significant benefit in proactively managing and addressing compliance risk.

But it is just as important for all contracted or potential service providers to familiarise themselves with the role of the NACC. The Attorney-General’s Department website provides information about the NACC – who it can investigate, and what constitutes corrupt conduct.

In NSW, the Independent Commission Against Corruption receives a new complaint about procurement every 1.4 days. Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission notes 54 per cent of its investigations relate to procurement. In Queensland, 7830 public servants identify procurement as highly vulnerable to corruption.

Preventing corruption in compliance reduces the misuse of public funds and lowers the risk of professional and personal reputational damage. Once an integrity body begins an investigation, it can have significant and disruptive effects on the careers and lives of those involved. The effects of a corruption finding can be long-lasting for organisations and individuals.

Fingers crossed this is not an increase in red tape but assurance for justified procurement decisions!

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