A Probity Mindset

It’s vital that government agencies focus on probity when making major decisions. It promotes confidence that decisions are made with integrity, fairness and accountability while attaining value for money.

Government agencies also need to strike a balance between building their own probity capabilities as well as working with external independent probity experts when it comes to making major decisions.

This article explores the contemporary probity challenges faced by government agencies, how governments can build their own probity capabilities and what to look for when engaging probity advisors.

In May 2019, Jenny Wiggins from the Australian Financial Review wrote an article, NSW Infrastructure boom to get even bigger highlighting that NSW has the biggest engineering construction market, with nearly $25 billion of projects expected to be completed by 2023. This includes the proposed $14 billion Western Harbour Tunnel, the adjoining Beaches Link projects and the $2.4 billion first stage of the F6.

She also referenced the additional scrutiny on infrastructure decisions and referred to the NSW Greens opposing the Western Harbour Tunnel, the final stage of the WestConnex motorway and the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum.

It’s similar in Queensland where the QLD government intends to outlay $21.7 billion in transport and road infrastructure over the next four years (The Urban Developer, Queensland’s $46 Billion Infrastructure Boom)

The contemporary infrastructure market is competitive and infrastructure decisions are scrutinised publicly.  With this, the probity principals of fairness, transparency, accountability and value for money are more important than ever.  It is the only way agencies can attract strong competition while at the same time provide confidence to infrastructure detractors that big infrastructure decisions represent value for money.

Government agencies must have strong probity mindsets and have competent internal and external advisors to ensure there is confidence in infrastructure decisions.

Internal probity advisors must have the skills to respond to typical probity issues such as confidentiality issues, management of bidder related interests, while at the same time encouraging competition.  This can only be achieved if clear guidance is given to internal probity advisors and adequate training is provided by experts in probity.  Often, a small investment in enhancing internal probity capability can prevent significant issues for major procurements.

Similarly, external probity advisors must have the experience to assist government agencies to work through probity issues to achieve the best value of money outcome.  When looking for competent probity advisors, agencies should review whether advisors have a depth of probity experience on significant infrastructure projects,  strong quality assurance process skills, a clear probity framework or benchmark parameters to guide the advice and companies who invest in training their probity advisors.

Prior to engaging an external probity advisor, government agencies should risk profile the decision. It should assess if there are political sensitivities, is there potential for bias or favouritism and the complexity and cost of the project.  The more complex the decision the more external help you need.

External probity advisors only account for a small amount of transaction costs and are not required in every transaction. In a recent public declaration Transport for NSW, stated that external probity advisors were used in less than 1% of its procurement events.

With today’s complex business environment, government agencies should focus on probity by enhancing its internal capabilities and working with experienced external probity practitioners.  When both are working together, government agencies will obtain value for money outcomes as well as creating confidence that major decisions have been properly made.

If you require any help to build your internal probity capabilities or require the services of experienced probity practitioners contact OCM.