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Fraud in everything but name.

At the 25 January 2015 meeting, Manningham council presented their draft 'Fraud & Corruption Control Plan' and 'Fraud & Corruption Policy'

Both these documents are quite good and go a long way to identify and control fraudulent conduct at Manningham Council. But they have some serious omissions.

The fraud policy and plan essentially focus on people fraudulently obtaining council assets and money through dishonesty, falsifying records and so on. However there is some types of activity, which I think many would regard as fraudulent, that are not addressed in either document.

Unfortunately these activities are very common at Manningham Council.

What are these behaviours I speak of? I have mentioned them in some articles in the past.

 

Example 1.

A council worker cuts the grass in a park near where I live. He used to spend 30 to 45 minutes asleep in his truck before doing the job. Then he would go to the next park down the road and do the exact same thing. So instead of doing the work expected of him, he spent a lot of the day asleep on the job. Since I complained about this on this news site and on the phone to the council, as far as I can tell, he has stopped this practice.

 

Example 2.

Council workers at the Maintenance Offices at the end of Blackburn Road go to extremes to waste time. They dawdle from one place to another as slowly as they can get away with. They spend inordinate amounts of time at the coffee machine. Since I have complained about this in this news site, I understand they have closed the door that allows the public to look into their workspace.

 

So is this type of behaviour fraud?

Let us look at the councils own definitions in their Fraud and Corruption Policy and Plan.

"Fraud and corruption involves the use of deception or misrepresentation to obtain an unjust advantage or benefit, or to cause a disadvantage or loss to the Council" (page 6, Fraud and Corruption Policy.)

Also

"the use of deception or misrepresentation to obtain an unjust advantage or benefit, or to cause a disadvantage or loss to the Council, and includes theft or misappropriation of Council assets." (page 2, Fraud and Corruption Plan.)

As you may deduce from my underlining in the quotes from the Council's own documents, I think there is a good case to make that deliberate, systematic and endemic loafing on the job and the associated misrepresentation of actions to the management and public that usually accompanies this type of practice, is actually fraud according to the council's own definitions.

Let us look at some other aspects of endemic loafing on the job.

Is there a loss to the council? There certainly is. The workers are being paid to do a job. However the job is done as slowly as possible. This results in the council paying more than necessary for the results or work they require done. This is no different to a supplier artificially inflate prices or consistently delivering less than they were paid to deliver.

Also, is there misrepresentation going on? Again, yes there is. The workers are saying they are doing a job properly as quickly as possible when in fact nothing of the sort is happening.

These time wasting activities, intended to extract as much money from the council as possible for the least amount of work delivered, are not addressed in either of the Fraud and Corruption documents.

I think most people would see such time wasting practices as a form of theft of pubic money and a form of fraud through misrepresentation or deception.

But our Council apparently do not see things this way. I can only assumed that they probably see this as an matter for individual managers to address in the work place.

But there  is a problem with this approach.

I do not think the managers at Manningham Council are able to address these practices as part of the day to day operation of the workplace.

I have found that council workers will protect and defend each other when it comes to wasting time and not doing their job.

In the example I gave above regarding the grass cutting (example 1) I actually phoned the council and gave the registration number of the truck to the council. Do you know what they said to me? Basically it was this:

"Can I have your phone number so I can get back to you with a reason why he is doing this"

Can you imagine someone saying something as silly as that? It is as though what this loafer was doing was reasonable.

I said that they did not need them to get back to me and this it was obvious what he was doing and equally obvious that he was being very poorly managed.

Another reason why managers at Manningham council are unable to address time wasting practices as part of the day to day management, is because these managers themselves would have been guilty of the very same thing, either now or in the past, and have little credibility in front of the staff. I will give some further evidence for this later on.

 

Here is a third example of actions by Manningham staff that neither of these documents are designed to identify or control but many would regard as fraudulent.

Example 3.

Inspectors from Manningham Council check food preparation premises to ensure certain standards are met. Some years back an inspector checked one such shop. The inspector made the comment to the proprietor that certain food preparation machinery was not clean. The proprietor knew the inspector was making this up because he had just cleaned the machines before the inspector arrived. The proprietor challenged what the inspector was saying and the inspector never got back to him or mentioned the issue again.

What appears to be going on here?

First it seems the council inspector was not doing his job properly. Second, it seems, the inspector was inventing problems to add to his report and so pretend to his superiors he was doing his job.

Note that the inspector was creating a paper trail of fraudulent inspection work that would be hard to dispute or verify after the event. Note also that while all this is going on he is being paid a very good salary.

If I am right about this, and I am not the only one who says this is taking place, then several things need to be said.

First, this inspector had a carefully thought out strategy of how to bluff his manager and pretend he was doing his job. So just how widespread is this type of fraudulent activity? Did this inspector devise this strategy himself or did he pick it up informally from the other council inspectors?

You will notice that the council's fraud and corruption documents tend to focus on the examination of internal documents to identify fraud. The council can examine these internal documents all they want and they will not pick up on this fraud. A paper trail has already been laid. And this paper trail is very hard to dispute or verify after the event.

To my mind, the only way to identify this type of fraud would be to work in conjunction with the food preparation premises and conduct a second examination immediately after the first to check the veracity of the first inspection before anything had been changed. But there is no scope for this in either of the fraud policy or plan document. There is no mention, or intention, that I can find in either document of conducting such investigations in the field.

When searching for fraudulent activity our council says:

"Post Transactional reviews, Data Mining, Analysis of management accounting reports." (page 8 Fraud and Corruption Plan.)

See also "3.4 Fraud and Corruption Risk Assessment", where again the focus is on internal records (page 6 Fraud and Corruption Plan.)

They hope to identify fraud by primarily examining internal records. But the council will not discover the fraudulent practices of this (and possibly other) food inspectors by looking at the paperwork.

 

So why don't the shop owners complain to the council?

You will notice that if council staff report fraud they are protected by law (page 9, Fraud and Corruption Plan). However there is no such protection for members of the public should they point out the corrupt practices of council staff.

If these corrupt practices are widespread among council inspectors, which I think they probably are, then the next inspector could persecute the shop mercilessly in retribution should the shop owner complain.

Later inspectors could close the shop down, but unreasonable demands on them and the council could do little. It would have to be an expensive and problematic process in the courts and the council could not be counted on to assist the shop owner. The council, in my experience, has always put the highest priority on protecting their own staff.

So how willing are shop owners to complain to the council? The wisest course may be to just endure this fraudulent nonsense year after year.

 

As I have hopefully demonstrated, these Fraud and Corruption documents are reasonable, but they have glaring omissions which allow the most common and widespread types of fraud that go on at Manningham Council to go undetected.

Also, these documents appear to be worded in a way that says the council will only investigate the types of fraud specifically described in these documents.

"Any action taken in regards to employees suspected of being involved in a fraudulent or corrupt activity that is in breach of this policy...." (page 5, Fraud and Corruption Policy).

It seems that all other types of fraud not described in these documents will not be looked into. And as I have said, this happens to be the most common and widespread types of fraud that go on at Manningham Council.

 

Managers may have been left to address the problems I mention above as part of the day to day running of their departments. But  I believe they will not be able to address them effectively.

This view is supported by the council's own fraud documents. Possibly the most revealing statement in these two documents is on page 5 of the Fraud and Corruption Plan. Here the compromised position of the managers at Manningham council is unwittingly admitted.

"Senior staff shall set the example in regards to exercising and demonstrating high levels of integrity in the execution of their roles and functions by regularly reminding staff of the importance of complying with Councils Code of Best Practice and the fraud/corruption plan and policy."

 

Council managers are going to instill high standards and integrity in their staff, by reminding them of policy documents and code of best practice.

When I worked in private enterprise we had much higher standards and far better examples to follow than that. At one job I reported to the Financial Controller and not once in seven years did I see him, or hear of him, do anything below the standards he set for both himself and for me. He set the standard by what he did and not by what he said1.

But it seems that this cannot be done at Manningham council. Council managers cannot say "do what I do", because in earlier years, they have most likely been involved in all the time wasting and shady practices that are so prevalent at Manningham council. And the council staff know this full well. These managers are in such a compromised position that all they can do is 'remind' their staff (which essentially amounts to nothing more than a thinly veiled threat to follow the policy documents.) It becomes a matter of "do what I say, not do what I do."

This, I think, is the reason why council managers will never be able to effectively address the most common types of fraud and corruption in Manningham Council in the day to day running of their departments.

 

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1. This probably sounds strange to people today who have been told repeatedly that business people are crooks while government workers are honest. Here we see one reason why there is little reporting of government corruption. Laws and policies are framed by government workers in such a way so they do not identify or lead to investigations of the fraud and dishonesty that many know is taking place.

 

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