Operation Yabber: Lessons Learned

Operation Yabber: Lessons Learned

The QLD Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) has tabled its report on Operation Yabber, which investigated allegations of corrupt conduct relating to senior employees and councillors at the Gold Coast City Council.

The investigation considered a range of allegations including that the Mayor misused his powers to undermine his CEO after his Chief of Staff meddled in council decisions and tried to get favourable treatment for colleagues who were developers. It also investigated the Mayor’s alleged misuse of council funds.

The report found that:

* “in relation to [the Chief of Staff], the perception that his friends and associates were the beneficiaries of his position at the GCCC was bad enough. However, it is clear that this was also the reality.”
* The Chief of Staff attempted to waive food license fees for a company that gifted him tickets to a major event on the Gold Coast.
* the Mayor ordered his CEO to halt disciplinary action against the Chief of Staff, “effectively protecting the Chief of Staff from potential disciplinary action”.
* “Whilst Operation Yabber did not identify such serious and systemic issues found in recent CCC investigations into other councils, it did once again highlight the impacts of not properly declaring and managing conflicts of interests”.
* Many councillors believed the mayoral power was being misused and that the Chief of Staff was untouchable and free to do and act however he wanted.
* The CEO considered the Chief of Staff a high-risk individual and there had been quite a few occasions where the Chief of Staff involved himself in development-related issues, advocating certain outcomes and behaviours expected from the Council
* The above created an unhealthy environment which may have deterred staff at Council from reporting misconduct against those who were closely aligned with the Mayor, believing the Mayor would intervene to protect those close to him.

Following the investigation, to ensure stricter governance and accountability in local government, the CCC is recommending amendments to the Local Government Act 2009 that will:

* clarify the responsibilities of mayors and councillors for the management of their staff/advisors and their adherence to codes of conduct, and
* ensure that mayoral directions (under section 170 of the Act) cannot be used to undermine the authority of chief executive officers to carry out their responsibilities.

No criminal charges have resulted from Operation Yabber.

Lessons Learned
In addition to the above, GRC Services recommends localised controls to help detect, prevent and deal with these types of situations. These may include:

* Training and awareness programs for all staff and Councillors in relation to the Council’s Code of Conduct;
* Fraud and corruption detection and prevention controls;
* Key risk indicators that help detect fraud and corrupt practice (preferably automated real-time controls)
* The conduct of a fraud/corruption risk assessment;
* Training all staff and Councillors on how to detect and prevent fraud and corrupt practice;
* Ensuring appropriate conflict of interest declaration and management controls are in place;
* Deploying a local Whistleblower Policy and associated processes to allow staff, Councillors, contractors and even members of the community to report suspected poor conduct.