South Australian government workers appear to be channelling official correspondence out through their personal email accounts in order to keep the information beyond the grasp of freedom of information laws, according to SA anti-corruption chief Bruce Lander.
He has issued a clear warning to anyone engaged in the activity - who he believes are mainly SA ministerial staffer - that the practice could put them on the wrong side of corruption laws.
“Such conduct might, at the least, amount to misconduct in public administration and be the subject of investigation and potential disciplinary action,” he said in the SA Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) inaugural annual report.
More importantly, he pointed out, any resulting breach of the State Records Act by a public officer "while acting in his or her capacity as a public officer” would “amount to corruption in public administration under the ICAC Act”.
Lander and his team today handed down its first summary of annual activity since the SA ICAC was established in September 2013.
Unlike its NSW namesake, the South Australian corruption investigator is not legislatively expected to report publicly on the outcome of its investigations.
But in a frank assessment of the state’s internal operations, the ICAC commissioner argued that if public servants or political staffers are frustrated by FOI rules, they should channel their thoughts into law reform, rather than taking matters into their own hands.
“It is a matter of concern that public officers would seek to circumvent a legislative scheme designed to enhance transparency in government decision making," Lander said.
“While it remains the law, the spirit of the Act should be observed by all public officers."
He also raised concerns that public officials were using pseudonyms on social media to leak confidential information “in circumstances when it is not in the public interest”.
“I doubt whether there is any need for any public officer (except in the course of law enforcement duties) to utilise a false identity to carry out the public officer’s duties appropriately.”
Throughout the year ICAC commenced 71 corruption investigations which were triggered by 90 different complaints plus three own initiative assessments.