Watching the sleeping watchdog

About 2000 years ago Juvenal asked "Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" which translated means "But who watches the watchdogs?"

Over the last 12 months, a few media reports on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption have actually been critical of it.

This letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 November 2002.


Chairman is obviously hard to please

While the chairman of State Parliament's ICAC oversight committee, John Hatzistergos, acknowledges the improved investigative capacity achieved by ICAC commissioner Irene Moss, his implicit criticism (Herald, November 6) of ICAC's effectiveness is unfair. ICAC's annual report for 2001-02 shows that for every investigation conducted under Commissioner Moss, criminal proceedings are either continuing or have resulted in convictions. I'd have thought that a100 per cent strike rate would have been the subject of acclamation, not inquisition. Stephen Murray, Hurstville, November 6 2002.

This purports to be a letter from a member of the public. Stephen Murray happens to be the name of the executive officer to Irene Moss, the ICAC Commissioner. If indeed these Stephen Murrays are one and the same, then by trying to hide the fact that the letter is from a senior ICAC officer and implying it has been sent from the public, doubt is cast on the ethical standards and integrity of ICAC. ABC Mediawatch has previously exposed several instances of published letters from bogus letter writers appearing in the press. Irene Moss is very sensitive to media criticism of ICAC, and the media have on many occasions have published letters written by her criticizing negative media coverage of ICAC. Letters critical of ICAC have seldom been published. Resorting to this tactic shows how desperate ICAC is to protect its tarnished image.

The true story of ICAC's record is different.

On 26 December 2001 The Daily Telegraph reported that the 2000/1 ICAC annual report shows it spent over $15m resulting in criminal charges being brought against 10 persons for acting corruptly, namely over $1.5m was spent for each criminal charge of corruption! This highlights ICAC's failure to act on corruption, as over 1,500 complaints and reports of corrupt conduct are received by ICAC annually.

On 16 December 2001, Alex Mitchell in the Sun-Herald named three senior ICAC officers as having links to the Labor Party. They were Lynne Chester, Grant Poulton and Stephen Murray, the writer of the letter to the Herald.

On March 17, 2002, Alex Mitchell, John Kidman and Jim O'Rouke reported in the Sun-Herald that ICAC had passed back to Cabramatta Council for "self-investigation" details of murdered MP John Newman's complaints of corruption within the council, and identified him as the complainant. ICAC had ignored the complaint itself. This is a tactic commonly used by ICAC when it received reports of corruption from whistleblowers it does not want to investigate. The Deputy Commissioner, Kieran Pehm, admitted at the seminar held in Sydney in August (Whistle, October 2002) that ICAC had acted wrongly (unethically?) in doing so. On November 2, 2002, Alex Mitchell and Candace Sutton wrote an exposť in the Sun-Herald, Naked City page ("All in the family") on cronyism in ICAC. This may be a reason why ICAC is ineffective in preventing systemic and institutionalised corruption in the state public service resulting from rampant cronyism. The report stated that: Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Irene Moss was once the NSW Ombudsman and her deputy commissioner Kieran Pehm was once the assistant Ombudsman. Pehm's partner Jennifer Mason, who is Attorney-General Bob Debus's chief of staff, once worked for the Ombudsman as an investigator. In 1994, Court judge Trevor Morling cleared Mason of any wrongdoing after inquiring into an e-mail scandal within the Ombudsman's Office. Laurie Glanfield, director-general of the Attorney-General's Department, is a member of ICAC's powerful operations review committee and the department's acting deputy director-general, John Feneley, spent 10 years at ICAC as its legal counsel. We live in a fish bowl. On 12 November 2002, the Attorney- General Bob Debus appointed Jeff Shaw, the previous Attorney General and his predecessor, to the NSW Supreme Court.

There is clearly a need for much more media attention and scrutiny which is critical of ICAC's independence, lack of accountability and unwillingness to investigate entrenched corruption and cronyism in the public service and other government agencies.

Joseph Palmer