Operation Belcarra: a blueprint for integrity and addressing corruption risk in local government

Corruption Political corruption Local government Elections Queensland
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Local governments are responsible for the good governance of local and regional communities. In performing this role, local governments execute a range of functions, including planning and monitoring, service delivery, and lawmaking and enforcement. They also play an important advocacy role, representing the interests of their community in negotiations with state and federal governments and the non-government sector. Those charged with this responsibility, elected mayors and councillors, must comply with relevant laws and adhere to the key principles of good government — equity, transparency, integrity and accountability — to secure the confidence of the communities they serve. Communities are rightly outraged when the behaviour of their elected representatives falls below these basic standards.

Following the Queensland local government elections on 19 March 2016, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) received numerous complaints about the conduct of candidates for several councils, including Gold Coast, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Logan. Consistent with the CCC’s responsibilities to investigate corruption, and prevent corruption and promote integrity, the CCC commenced Operation Belcarra to:

· determine whether candidates committed offences under the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 that could constitute corrupt conduct

· examine practices that may give rise to actual or perceived corruption, or otherwise undermine public confidence in the integrity of local government, with a view to identifying strategies or reforms to help prevent or decrease corruption risks and increase public confidence.

To achieve these aims, the CCC undertook a range of investigative activities and concluded that the allegations centred on the issues of undeclared groups of candidates, misleading electoral funding and financial disclosure returns, and failing to operate a dedicated bank account. The CCC conducted a public hearing to gather information about a number of possible criminal offences and canvass broader issues related to corruption and integrity in local government. The investigation of some allegations is still being finalised. The CCC formed the view that the publication of this report, which highlights the inadequacies of the current system and proposes reforms to address them, should occur as a matter of priority and not be delayed on account of a small number of outstanding investigations.

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