I well remember during my first working visit to Africa, nearly twenty years ago, that on discussing the visible corruption where I was working, a young African said to me, ‘but of course you don’t have any corruption in your country, do you?’ I gently told him, yes we do, but on the whole, there isn’t much publicity about such things.
Now we are in the year 2005 with vastly expensive computer systems, layer upon layer of audit and inspection, risk management, good governance and compliance, not to mention Tony and Gordon, and waste, poor management and corruption have been minimized – haven’t they? Well if you have been on holiday on Mars for a while, you might think so, but those of us who operate at ground floor level know that this is just not the case.
During the last eighteen months I have carried out several investigations relating to good governance, compliance and fraud. My work has highlighted how easy it is for public and voluntary bodies to become complacent ‘because they have the necessary safeguards and systems in place’. In principle quite frequently they do, but in practice things are often substantially different due to indifferent management, the passage of time, changes in personnel, failure to re-set targets, and a ridiculous optimism ‘that we don’t have corruption in our organization’.
I have to respect confidences in this paper, so some of the information I present is very condensed, but I trust I shall encourage you to think about some of the points which I raise below:
Are you using your computer system to bring together what might appear to be unrelated sets of information? For instance, have you looked at who is getting local tax rebate, against the granting of planning permissions to those same people? Do they continue to get rebate after they have sold off part of their garden? Or have they given the land to relatives for natural care and affection?
Are you sure that in your firm you do not have anyone who is related to, or in a relationship with, an important person working directly or indirectly with the same body? Recently, I happened to glance at the front cover of an annual report showing the auditor’s name. How strange, I thought, that is the same name as the Chief Executive – they couldn’t be related, could they? Yes it turned out that they could!
What about mail which comes in to the office in electronic form? Do you know who is receiving what? Is anyone using email to agree something which commits your organization to possibly unauthorized expenditure? In addition, is your email system being flooded because everyone is copying everything to everybody?
If you are a grant-paying body, are you certain that all of the grants are paid to the correct subsidiary organization? If you say yes, and your evidence is that there is a paper on file which says £123 has been paid over to the XYZ community organization, does that give you sufficient confidence in the security of the system? I doubt it.
If you work for a small to medium size body, particularly in the community/voluntary sector, do you have a qualified accountant to look after your finances, or perhaps an honorary treasurer who is a qualified accountant? If you don’t then senior management and board members may be left feeling tremendously exposed should some malpractice be going on.
One of the main findings from my work, is that many organizations have very little idea of what their staff actually spend their time on. Do the bosses really know what they are doing with their time? If there is no time management/recording system to inform management, then there is more than a possibility that staff are wasting some of their time. Is there any difference between wasting time and stealing money or supplies?
I hope that this short note will have made you think. I believe that despite all the progress on good governance, which I very much support, employers must come right down to the ground floor level to ensure that they have adequate security and protection at all levels at all times.
David Clement is the author of this article “Good Governance" and Chairman of the Software Development Business Company Systems Network Limited http://www.systemsnetwork.co.uk/