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masters of deception …

The Beagle Editor, Your readers, especially the many well informed who are well aware of the requirements for Council, Councillors and Council staff to conform to a Code of Conduct might find our latest media release of interest. masters of deception … The earliest encounter that the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) had with Bega Valley Shire Council’s (BVSC) Code of Conduct was back in 2013, just over a year after it was incorporated. It is fair to say that, at that time, the BVSRRA believed (somewhat naively, as it would come to understand) that the processes of government, including local government, were operated with honesty & integrity, & that public officials were committed to upholding such standards, as is their sworn duty. That first experience demonstrated in so many ways how completely misguided the BVSRRA was about the behaviour of government (in particular local government) & public officials (both elected & appointed) in either knowingly or unknowingly abusing their public responsibilities. In response to the BVSRRA’s Code of Conduct complaint against the then Acting General Manager, BVSC organised a supposed “Independent Reviewer” to examine the matter. From there …  an unsigned, undated & highly prejudicial report was produced, ignoring the basis of the association’s complaint, on the one hand, while criticising it on the other, using manufactured reasons;  contrary to the requirements of the procedures governing the management of Code of Conduct complaints, the BVSRRA was not provided with a copy of the report prior to its publication;  BVSC management prepared a further report for presentation to a meeting of council using the reviewer’s report to make further public criticisms of the BVSRRA. At the same time, through some mysterious process, that to this day remains unexplained, those claims found their way into the hands of the local media, who then helpfully busied themselves creating the impression that BVSC was the innocent, helpless victim of abuse by the BVSRRA. It was from that early experience that the BVSRRA started to understand how the Code of Conduct ‘system’ is not about upholding best practice standards of governance, but all about providing a mechanism that public officials can use to neutralise or deflect claims of misbehaviour made against them. The BVSRRA believes that the ‘system’ is a ‘fig leaf’, designed to create the impression that our public officials only ever act with complete honesty & integrity, & in the best interests of residents & ratepayers, whilst ensuring that where they are caught out, they are not held to account. The ‘system’ ensures that such outcomes are achieved by giving responsibility for its management to those it is supposedly intended to hold accountable …. read ‘fox’ & ‘hen house’. Those who doubt the BVSRRA’s characterisation might care to read the final submission by the NSW Local Government Association into the most recent review of the Model Code of Conduct & they will find the same deficiencies as those identified by the BVSRRA, including fundamental conflicts of interest & maladministration while, at the same time, looking at BVSC’s Code of Conduct Complaints statistics over the past five years …

... that reflect a huge upswing in the number of complaints made in the year ended August 31st, 2017, but also highlighting the fact that only half of the 13 complaints made against Councillors over the past five years were upheld, while none of the five complaints made against council staff over the same period were upheld. Even worse, at an aggregate level, only three of the ten complaints made in 2016/2017 were upheld. Needless to say, the BVSRRA has continued to pursue Code of Conduct complaints where it believes that the behaviour of public officials, whether appointed or elected, should be called-out. Whilst such complaints to date have invariably been dismissed (with one notable exception, when the political interests of some councillors appeared to be enhanced when a complaint was upheld), they do serve to highlight behaviour on the part of public officials that would otherwise be concealed. The BVSRRA always publicises any Code of Conduct complaint it pursues, in the hope that it just might encourage an improvement in the behaviour of public officials moving forward. The BVSRRA has prepared a brief summary of a number of Code of Conduct complaints it has initiated over the past five years, the results of which it believes speak for themselves.

The BVSRRA believes that another significant reason that public officials are often able to avoid accountability for their actions is the failure of the Office of Local Government (OLG) to strongly support the code, demonstrating a willingness to “excuse” their behaviour, more often than not for what appear to be quite spurious justifications. In the case of the Code of Conduct complaint upheld against Cr Allen in 2014, where he chose to ignore a resolution of council, the then Acting CEO of the OLG decided not to pursue the matter because it was “too old”. More recently, in responding to a Code of Conduct complaint against Cr McBain, the CEO of the OLG found that “there is a prima facie breach of clause 8.13 of the Code” & that he was of the view that breaches of the integrity provisions of the Model Code (Part 8 breaches) were “of a serious nature”. He then went on to say that he had decided to exercise his discretion not to investigate the matter because the resources required would be “disproportionate to the subject matter of the complaint”. The BVSRRA believes that the decline in standards of governance is not peculiar to BVSC, but is something that is increasingly common across both private & public sectors organisations, from the most senior to the most junior levels.The values that have underwritten best practice standards in public administration are increasingly being eroded at both a personal & organisational level. The core values of transparency, accountability, ethical behaviour (including honesty & integrity), professionalism & leadership are being traded-away & replaced by behaviours that are their antithesis. Increasingly we see public officials adopting standards based on whatever they think they can get-away with, while appearance now rules over substance (the last self-serving review of the Model Code & its Procedures initiated by the OLG only sought inputs from councils & council officials). Hardly any wonder that the Code of Conduct system is now of little real value to anyone, other than the usual suspects. John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association

#Opinion #Bega

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