The Victorian Ombudsman, Ms Deborah Glass, has finalised her investigation into the leadership of a former high school principal. The investigation was a result of three protected disclosure complaints referred to the office by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) under the Protected Disclosure Act 2012 (Vic). Ms Glass tabled her damning report on 12 September 2018.
The Ombudsman described the principal’s actions as a case study in nepotism. She also found the principal misused his position, failed to declare conflicts of interest and mismanaged public funds. This article will focus on the allegations relating to nepotism.
The investigation found the principal disregarded the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) recruiting policies and requirement to avoid the perception of conflict of interest. Ms Glass determined the principal ran the regional school like a “personal fiefdom”, having the final say in recruiting decisions to employ and promote family members and using public funds to support family members’ companies.
There were two notable findings in relation to nepotism.
Firstly, the principal’s wife was given work experience that she would not have gained if she were not married to the principal. She was also employed as an executive assistant to the principal despite there being no record that she applied for the job.
Secondly, the principal’s son was hired to head up the school’s Athlete Development Program, beating a more qualified and experienced candidate for the position. Following a flawed recruitment process, he was also awarded a promotion by his father five weeks later, worth $7,203 per year.
The identified conduct occurred despite a comprehensive policy framework provided by the DET for recruitment procedures, conflicts of interest, financial accountability and complaint management. Evidently, the principal felt unassailable in his decision making and not bound by these policies.
The impact of nepotism can be particularly severe in a close-knit regional community where there are fewer employment prospects than in a metropolitan area. Due to the principal’s position, his influence significantly impacted the culture of the college and the careers of teachers and staff, undermining public trust in public officials.
The Ombudsman’s role is to form opinions on the merit of complaints and recommend remedial action, however, she did not make recommendations in relation to the principal, his wife and son because they resigned after the allegations surfaced and before the investigation was finalised. Instead, DET were encouraged to reflect on the conduct identified as well as their failure to respond to it appropriately. Before IBAC referred these matters to the office, DET had received at least 21 complaints about the principal and had failed to adequately investigate and act.
Employers should be mindful that policy frameworks alone are not enough to prevent nepotism in the workplace and consider:
- Strengthening policies to clarify the rules for employees and empowering managers to identify and act on improper conduct.
- Fostering a culture that encourages staff to speak up about improper conduct. Employees should feel confident that their concerns will be well managed and appropriate actions will be taken and others should not feel they are untouchable and cannot be challenged.
- Focusing on building awareness and education in relation to conflicts of interest, complaint handling and the obligation to declare all conflicts of interest is important to preventing nepotistic behaviour.
The investigation report can be found here.
Should you have any questions about this report, please contact Sarah Rey or the team at Justitia.