Fraud And Corruption – A Strategic Direction For Fiji

Nobody likes to be misled, especially by people they trust or have an expectation will do the right thing, whatever that is. Fraud and corruption can be a blow to the self-image of capable managers and their confidence in their ability to deter or detect a fraudulent scheme. More so, they can have a negative impact on an organisation’s brand, image and reputation, organisational morale and where the loss is large – significantly impact the bottom line.

In a recent survey of fraud in Australian organisations, 84 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition that fraud control is a governance issue.

In Fiji, it is even more important, because the whole fabric of society is affected by the level of fraud and particularly corruption that exists. The World Bank on their website states that: “The Bank has identified corruption as among the greatest obstacles to economic and social development. It undermines development by distorting the rule of law and weakening the institutional foundation on which economic growth depends. The harmful effects of corruption are especially severe on the poor, who are hardest hit by economic decline, are most reliant on the provision of public services, and are least capable of paying the extra costs associated with bribery, fraud, and the misappropriation of economic privileges.”

A recent case in South Africa proved the fraudulent and corrupt relationship between a Durban-based businessman named Schabir Shaik and South African politician and anti-apartheid leader Jacob Zuma and led to Shaik being sentenced to 15 years in jail. Concluding the sentencing proceedings in the Durban High Court on 7 June 2005, Judge Hillary Squires said:

“I do not think I am overstating anything when I say that this phenomenon [of corruption] can truly be likened to a cancer eating away remorselessly at the fabric of corporate privacy and extending its baleful effect into all aspects of administrative functions, whether state official or private sector manager. If it is not checked, it becomes systemic. And the after-effects of systemic corruption can quite readily extend to the corrosion of any confidence in the integrity of anyone who has a duty to discharge, especially a duty to discharge to the public.

One can hopefully discount the prospect of it happening in this country, but it is that sort of increasing disaffection which leads and has led on other parts of our continent and elsewhere to coups d’tat or the rise of populace leaders who in turn manipulate politics for even greater private benefit … This is the last step in a thousand mile journey.”

The former Prime Minister of Fiji, the Honourable Laisenia Qarase, in his address to the Prime Minister’s Corporate Governance Summit in 2005 stated that:

“There is no quarrel about dealing with corruption as it is an obstacle to progress and the antitheses of good governance.

It is a stain on the integrity of a nation. And it hinders investment, slows growth, contributes to unemployment, leads to a reduction in living standards and reduces government revenues.

In our own case, the exact extent of it is hard to quantify because by its nature it is a shadowy and hidden thing, but reported investigations that are on-going and case before the courts indicate the urgent need for vigilance against corruption.”

What is the level of fraud and corruption in Fiji ? Transparency International Chairman, Hari Pal Singh, made a good point when he called for a national study to gauge the extent of corruption in Fiji.

Having been involved in coordinating the KPMG fraud surveys of Australia and New Zealand whilst working for KPMG Forensic, I can say confidently that they are a good starting point for discussion, as long as the survey is done independently by someone who has built trust and can be relied onto protect the confidential information that should be provided as part of such a survey.

In other words, no individual organisation should be named and shamed. That should not be the purpose of the exercise. If senior management of corporations and CEO’s of Government Departments and Statutory Authorities do not have that confidence, they will not respond. It is that simple. Then the value of the survey would be diminished. I believe that such a survey should be done regularly in Fiji, possibly every two years and cover as many organisations as possible. The support and encouragement of leading industry bodies such as the Fiji Institute of Accountants, the Fiji Employers Federation and the Fiji Islands Hotel and Tourism Association would certainly help with gaining credibility with members and encouraging their participation.

Corporate governance is an entire culture that sets and monitors behavioural expectations intended to deter the fraudster and the corrupt. As part of the establishment of sound corporate governance, it is now clearly accepted that an organisation, whether public, private or not for profit, should formulate a fraud and corruption control strategy. Through the development and implementation of the strategy, compliance with anti-fraud and corruption control practices can be promoted, maintained and instances of fraud and corruption control non-conformance identified and dealt with quickly.

This article will discuss ways that all three sectors in Fiji can effect positive change. Whether it is to their bottom line, expenditure on public goods or positive outcomes for the disadvantaged

What is a fraud and corruption control strategy ?

It is a comprehensive summary of key elements that the organisation has introduced to prevent, identify, manage, investigate and deal with fraud and corruption specific to its own circumstances. According to the Australian Standard AS8001-2003 , although an organisation’s approach to its strategy will be dependent upon its size, diversity, geographical spread and the industry in which it operates, the Standard recommends that a strategy contain a number of elements. Several of these elements are discussed below:

Fraud and corruption awareness – How does the organisation educate their staff and stakeholders about how fraud and corruption occurs and what to do if it is discovered ? This is a key element as fraud surveys have clearly demonstrated over time that the majority of frauds are discovered by staff and that whistleblowers are also an important source of information. Most staff are nave to fraud and corruption. This helps in creating an environment for the dishonest to flourish.

Reporting of fraud and corruption – Is there a formal reporting process ? Does senior management and the Audit and Risk Management Committee get told of all incidences ? If all instances are not recorded centrally, how does management assess the size and breadth of the problem and effectively manage it ? Also importantly, if the instances of fraud and corruption are not reported to the Audit and Risk Management Committee, how do they monitor the performance of senior management in managing the risk ? There must be a central repository of all theft, fraud and corruption and it must be reported up.

Fraud and corruption risk assessment – Identifying a couple of fraud risks in your business risk assessment or enterprise risk management process is far from adequate. An organisation should not rely on management alone to come up with all potential risks as there may be a knowledge gap, a reluctance to identify the existing weaknesses, inadequate allocation of time to discuss the issues or lack of a persistent inquisitor to ask the tough questions and follow up. So, consider having someone involved who thinks like a fraudster and has experienced a broad range of fraud and corruption issues who can add real value to the process. The insights regarding risks and process weaknesses can be invaluable.

Whistleblowing – How does your organisation protect whistleblowers ? Does it encourage anonymous reporting ? Whistleblower programs allow employees and others to report concerns – including those about corporate fraud and corruption – and can allow the management and/or the Board to take early corrective action. Whistleblowing lines are very prominent in the public sector in Australia and now are becoming more prominent in the private sector. This may not suit the culture of Fiji, however it is important to recognise that honest staff who see something that they do not agree with, have to be given an outlet to voice their concerns. Sometimes that needs to be anonymously. I agree with Professor Ron Duncan of the University of the South Pacific who believes Fiji needs a Whistleblowers Act if good governance is to be effectively practiced. Professor Duncan was quoted as saying:

“Given the secretive nature of the offence, the protection of those who bring acts of corruption to the notice of law enforcement agencies cannot be emphasized enough. More so, in a small society such as ours with its pervasive culture of silence”

Pre-employment screening – Is there a consistent process of screening across the organisation ? How thoroughly are background checks, such as prior employment history, tertiary qualifications and memberships of professional associations, conducted ? Does it cover only full-time employees or include contractors ? This is an area of concern in Fiji because the quality of the recruiting when outsourced has been inconsistent. I personally know of several cases where a recruitment company knew that a candidate was dismissed from his last employment for fraud and yet they put the candidate forward immediately for another accounting role, without either the recruiting firm or the candidate disclosing what happened.

Regular reviews of internal controls – Effective internal controls cannot be both successful and static. They should be monitored and evaluated for improvements and changes made necessary by changing conditions. The scope and frequency of evaluations of the internal control structure depend on risk assessments and the overall perceived effectiveness of internal controls. As an example, under the Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, management is charged with performing an evaluation at least annually. Anti-money-laundering procedures employed by financial institutions are a good example of a proactive process designed to deter fraudulent transactions from taking place through a financial institution. I know that KPMG, one of the Big 4 firms in Fiji, has been using a very detailed and focused Forensic style approach on special internal audits, with considerable success. To catch a thief, you sometimes have to think like a thief !

Commonwealth Agencies in Australia have clearly led the private sector in developing fraud and corruption control strategies. This is mainly because it is mandated under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 that all budget-funded agencies, and relevant Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 funded bodies, put in place practices and procedures for effective fraud control. The Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines, outlines how each Agency must have a fraud control plan. The private sector as yet is slow to follow suit.

To my knowledge few, if any, public or private sector organisations in Fiji have a detailed fraud and corruption control strategy. If so, I would be keen to know about them.

What can your organisation do ?

Senior management tasked with governance responsibilities should undertake a review of their approach to fraud and corruption control. It is recommended that they at least benchmark your organisation against best practice recommended by the Australian Standard AS8001-2003 – ‘Fraud and Corruption Control’ in order to determine gaps that require addressing. This will be the blue print for going forward.

Key areas of the fraud and corruption control strategy that should be emphasised and undertaken should include: championing a pro-active and thorough approach to fraud risk management across the organisation; reviewing the organisation’s whistleblowing policy and procedures and where one does not exist, seriously consider the inclusion of an anonymous reporting line to augment the reporting structure; educating staff about fraud and corruption, how it is detected and importantly the organisation’s reporting procedures; and investigating thoroughly all allegations of fraud and corruption and taking decisive action where there is proven evidence of it occurring. Consider zero tolerance !

Conclusion

Emerging technological trends, the globalisation of commerce as well as the growing impact of the prevalence of gambling should be of concern to Board members and senior management in all organisations in Fiji, both large and small. They all create risks that need to be constantly managed.

Those who commit fraud and corruption, whether internal or external to the organisation, are often attuned to system and control weaknesses and therefore target least points of resistance.

To deal with these fraud and corruption risks, organisations must look to how they are allocating their resources and seriously consider the need for a comprehensive strategy. It is time to allocate part of the budget to fraud and corruption prevention in order to positively impact your organisation’s achievements.