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The benefits of being random

Published on 6 May 2019

Life cannot be calculated. That's the big mistake our civilization made. We never accepted that randomness is not a mistake in the equation -- it is part of the equation.

Jeanette Winterson

People have always had a strange sensitivity to chance and randomness. More often than not we fear it, preferring instead the comfort of predictability. However, it is also true that we have a strange affection for the random, particularly in its role of ‘leveller’ in the lottery of life; but also in whole fields of scientific inquiry and as a mechanism for encouraging compliance and appropriate conduct in law and in public administration.

Public administration in South Australia is delivered by over one hundred and thirty thousand people. The vast majority of these people are honest and competent. However, the unfortunate truth is that some individuals are motivated to game systems for their own advantage, and some others simply make mistakes. Either way public administration suffers. Given it is not practicable to triple check the work of every public officer, the use of random checks and audits are extremely valuable in safeguarding the integrity of public administration.

The ICAC’s evaluation of SafeWork SA included a number of recommendations that involved spot checks and random audits. Specifically the ICAC recommended checking the use of discretionary statutory powers given to Safework SA inspectors and investigators by auditing a random selection of staff members in those roles. The evaluation also recommended conducting random audits of triaging decisions to increase oversight, and random audits of after-hours work claims. 

The strategic and controlled use of random audits is useful for all agencies. Regular spot checks of compliance with key controls, processes and policies can provide an early indication of whether a practice is consistent with policy, and will deter inappropriate behaviour.  

Many organisations have internal audit and risk teams, typically providing a range of routine and anticipated checks and assessments. Such teams should also consider conducting periodic random audits on specific parts or work practices of an organisation that go beyond the typical scheduled check.  Random audits ensure everyone is open to the possibility of scrutiny which tends to decrease the likelihood or risk of corrupt offending.

All staff should be aware that random audits and spot checks are normal parts of an organisation’s operation. This shared understanding can both promote awareness that offending will be identified and assure staff that they are not being individually targeted, helping to maintain a positive work environment.

For the sake of accountable and orderly public administration in South Australia, it might be time to get a little random.  

 

This article was published in Issue #2 - May 2019 of ICAC's Integrity Matters newsletter.

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