17 June 2020

COVID-19 and corruption risks

 Corruption, bribery, and fraud can flourish in any emergency, and the Covid-19 crisis is no different. 

Around the world Covid-19 is disrupting the role and function of oversight committees, internal controls, and national audit functions. This is exacerbated when governments suspend parliaments and grant themselves extraordinary executive powers. 

This is when corruption, including bribery and violations of our standards of political integrity, can undermine our democratic processes because the usual safeguards and oversight mechanisms are not in force. 

The Australian government needs to allocate specific resources to independently monitor corruption, fraud, bribery, and integrity risks during Covid-19. Of course, getting the virus under control is paramount, but now is not the time to put fighting corruption and promoting integrity on the back burner. The two can and must go hand in hand.

We need to ensure that our governments consult with parliamentary oversight committees, integrity experts, audit and control institutions, and that the decisions of our political leaders at this time, more than ever, are transparent and driven by public interest. 

With the health crisis being managed, three principles should guide our Covid-19 response: transparency, accountability, and integrity. 



To mitigate the risk of corruption, bribery, fraud and integrity violations in Australia’s Covid-19 response, Transparency International Australia recommends the Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 consider: 

1. Establishing an effective, well-resourced national integrity commission with broad scope and powers, including the authority to hold public hearings when in the national interest. 

2. Introducing a parliamentary code of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff to help guard against integrity violations, undue influence, conflicts of interest and decisions that are not in the public interest. 

3. Allocating specific resources to monitor corruption and integrity violation risks associated with the Covid-19 response, including establishing a Covid-19 fiscal stimulus/ expenditure transparency index. 

4. Introducing time and scope bound executive and emergency powers and develop guidance for the use of delegated legislation exemption powers. 

5. Ensuring full disclosure of procurement of medical supplies and prices paid, and that all procurement aligns with clean contracting principles, including the Open Contract Data Standard. 

6. Establishing mechanisms to ensure any Covid-19 economic bailout of companies is in the public interest. This includes disclosure of due diligence processes and a commitment to not bail out companies that cannot disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and if they are associated with tax evasion and corporate crime. An independent oversight committee of economic bailouts for companies is needed. 

7. Introducing legislation for the NCCC that provides integrity and transparency safeguards like other commissions. The use of interim reports should be considered in order for the NCCC to provide timely and transparent advice. 

8. Establishing a fair and open system for the appointment of Commissioners via legislation, including public advertising of positions, selection based on qualifications and bipartisan appointment. The NCCC must have broader representation of groups, given its remit of the non-health related aspects of the pandemic, including representatives of groups most impacted and at risk during the economic recovery. 

9. Establishing a parliamentary oversight committee, to review the role and operations of the NCC after the first year of operation, with regular reporting and publication of the Government response to recommendations. 

10. Establishing a NCCC conflict of interest disclosure register, as a matter of urgency, which applies to all members of the Commission, working groups and advisory bodies associated with it. The register should be published on the PM&C website, along with processes for managing conflicts of interest. 

11. Engaging with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Forum to help develop specific Covid-19 commitments for the third OGP National Action Plan. 

Photo credit:  Aditya Joshi via Unsplash.