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Use of resources

Public resources are those items that are paid for, owned, or controlled by public sector agencies. Public officials use these resources to perform their job, and they have a responsibility to use them in an effective, efficient and fair manner. Appropriate use of public resources by public officials is fundamental to public agencies fulfilling their statutory responsibilities and obligations.

Note that use of resources by individual public officials is distinguished in this advice from systemic management of resources by public sector agencies.

Hospital kitchen staff steal food 

An agency reported allegations that kitchen staff at a public hospital were stealing food from the hospital, leaving earlier than the times recorded on their timesheets and taking unauthorised breaks. These practices had been going on for some time and were part of the culture of the unit, such that even supervisors and senior staff were involved. One kitchen employee also stole other goods from the hospital. The agency reported the matter to NSW Police, who recovered the stolen goods. Two employees were dismissed and other employees resigned during the investigation.

Source: Complaint made to the ICAC.

Misappropriation of surplus or low-value assets – such as food in the case study – or items that appear to be unwanted, forgotten or leftover is theft. The ICAC has investigated several agencies where a localised work culture has developed with the attitude that it is okay for public officials to take items because “everyone does it”, “nobody wants this”, “it has been forgotten” or “management doesn't seem to care”. In some cases, this attitude has evolved into deliberate over-ordering of items, so employees can misappropriate the surplus. The disposal of surplus, including low-value material and assets, (even to employees) should be systematic and transparent, and guided by a clear policy and procedures. Deliberate misuse of resources can constitute a breach of public trust by public officials who do this.

Misuse of resources should be reported to the ICAC if the agency suspects, or has determined, that it was deliberate. Misuse caused through error or negligence is unlikely to constitute corrupt conduct under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. However, mistakes and negligence, especially if frequent, can tell an agency a lot about systemic weaknesses and inefficiencies in how its resources are used and, for this reason, they should be analysed by the agency just as closely as deliberate misuse. For further advice about what to report to the ICAC, refer to Section 11 reporting guidelines for principal officers.

Cabcharge fraud by an unknown employee
An agency reported to the ICAC that several fraudulent transactions had been made on a Cabcharge card by an unknown employee. The card had been awaiting collection by another employee who was authorised to use the card. It appears the employee who misused the card had access to some of the authorised employee's identity markers, including his signature as it had apparently been used on the Cabcharge dockets. The agency cancelled the Cabcharge card and reviewed its internal systems for handling Cabcharge cards.

Source: Complaint made to the ICAC.

Common corruption risks around use of resources include a public official:

  • making excessive use of public resources for private purposes
  • using public resources for outside employment, (for example, their work time, vehicle, stationery, tools, email and telephone)
  • using work vehicles and fuel cards for non-work purposes without authority
  • taking surplus materials from an agency work site
  • purchasing goods or services for private use on an agency's credit card outside the agency's credit card policy.

Developing a strategy

A strategy that includes a written policy and procedures can help ensure consistency and compliance in the use of resources, but only if staff understand the policy, are able to comply and are motivated to comply.

Accurate records of resources provided to staff and the public are essential for auditing, and can be used to detect misuse. For example, a significant increase in the use of printing paper, without any apparent operational explanation for this increase, could indicate theft.

Consider the following measures:

  • ensure employees return resources, such as mobile telephones and laptops, when they are no longer required for operational reasons or when the employee leaves the agency
  • ensure that employees are not permitted to approve the allocation of resources to themselves
  • maintain records of when, and to whom, the agency's resources are allocated, especially for high-value items that can be resold or are easily concealed
  • label or mark agency property and conduct stocktakes
  • conduct regular reconciliations of the use of resources allocated to employees, such as credit card receipts and Cabcharge dockets
  • monitor inventory levels of consumable items such as fuel, toner cartridges and spare parts
  • conduct random and regular audits to monitor the personal use of resources and ensure compliance with policy guidelines (for example, checking calls from work-allocated mobile telephones).

Limitations on public officials’ private use of resources is an issue for each agency to determine for itself through its own policy. There is a general convention in NSW public sector organisations that limited personal use of certain public resources is permissible. This recognises that most public officials will at some stage make personal use of organisational resources, for example, to make personal telephone calls, use the internet, and send emails during work time. What is important is that personal use of public resources is clearly guided by a policy and communicated to staff. The Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW government sector employees requires government employees to use resources in an efficient, effective and prudent way.


Updated December 2018