The ethos of good probity in procurement is simple – ensuring procurement is conducted in a way that is not just legal, but with clear documentation of how the considerations have been handled. In public office, sometimes integrity is only as valuable as your ability to demonstrate transparency.
While it may seem like an arduous process, perhaps your probity processes could be refined and even economised. On review of the following four focus areas outline in the QLD Government probity brief, think about how your current procurement process achieves these and consider where weaknesses may lie.
- Fairness and impartiality
Fairness and impartiality are one of the highest risk elements within the procurement assessment process. Fairness and Impartiality mean just that – have you ensured everyone has been given the same treatment, where no potential supplier has been put at a disadvantage compared with the rest of the competition. Remember to consider this from the perspective of the tenderer. While it may seem obvious that personal biases interfering in the awarding of a contractor are obviously unethical, your best intention to be fair may seem less of obvious in retrospect if the supporting documentation is poorly communicated. Biases can also arise in procedural oversights, including how information is communicated to different parties and even the timing and release of that information.
- Accountability and transparency of decisions and process
What can you do to improve the way you justify and document your evaluation process? This may not be the creation of more paperwork, but the refinement of your record-keeping system to make it clear and concise. Have you maintained a healthy separation of powers within the evaluation and approval stages? A very important element of good probity practice is ensuring your communication with prospective suppliers is clear, consistent and filed correctly. Remember – it’s not just meeting the minimal legal requirements, but demonstrating transparency though clear communication and documentation.
- Conflict of interest management
Despite our best efforts to maintain a diverse range of decision-making officers, conflicts of interest do arise – especially when decision-makers may operate in an executive capacity. We continue to hear of investigations within the Local Government sector and there are many reasons why this is occurring. One unfortunate reason is the failure of individuals objectively assessing whether a conflict exists. Conflicts of interest are one of the least understood risks of governance and failure to recognise and deal with them properly can cause serious problems. Ensuring your officers (and executives) have a clear understanding of the declaration processes, is important. Because of the visibility of public office to scrutiny, even a perceived conflict of interest can be enough to jeopardize a project schedule. When it comes to conflicts of interest, meticulous records and objective assessments make for a good night’s sleep. The advantage of engaging a third party to conduct an independent assessment can help correct any improprieties before they fall prey to public scrutiny.
- Managing probity relative to value and risk
This focus area aims to ensure that probity is integrated within an agency’s framework to ensure that it is managed relative to the value and risk of a particular procurement activity. How you apply probity considerations to planning and processes should be weighed against the value and risk of the operation. This is where you need to evaluate if the value and risk of the project warrant engaging a probity auditor or advisor.
We work with you to investigate your current procedures, evaluate the standard of transparency in your processes as well as advise on your processes. We provide a full audit of your contract offering process to give you the assurance that your department has demonstrated procedural and ethical integrity.
Our probity specialists Darren and Reece will be with you from the start to advise and ensure the procurement process conforms to strong probity practices. Our managing partner Darren Laarhoven is currently an approved service provider to the Queensland Audit Office. He is also part of the whole-of-government panel arrangement (QGP0050-18: Provision of Professional Services of Finance, Audit and Probity) servicing the needs of the Queensland Government.
If you have any concerns about existing engagements or wish to discuss matters for up-coming projects, don’t hesitate to speak with us – we’re here to help!
Darren Laarhoven: D.Laarhoven@uhyhnseq.com.au
Reece Jory: R.Jory@uhyhnseq.com.au