Probity, ethics, and integrity
Probity is an important aspect of procurement; ‘best-value’ procurement doesn’t just relate to economic value, it also denotes fair and ethical buying procedures where patients, suppliers and health services are all given an equal chance to succeed.
HealthShare Victoria provides support and resources to help health services understand probity requirements in the public sector context. Our team is here to help you understand best-practice, so that you can provide best-value outcomes for your organisation and Victorian patients.
Probity in the public sector
Probity is all about maintaining integrity, fairness and honesty. In the procurement context, the probity principles can best be described as:
- consistency and transparency of procurement processes
- fairness and impartiality in conduct of procurement processes
- identifying and managing conflicts of interest
- security and confidentiality of documents and information
- ensuring market equality
- allocating appropriate capability
In Victoria, probity is governed by a number of frameworks that set out clear values and guidelines.
Values define what is important to an organisation and their expectations on how things should be done. In the Victorian public sector, they underpin all employee interactions with the government, community, suppliers and other employees.
- In the public sector, Section 7 of the Public Administration Act 2004 (Vic) establishes a list of values to guide the conduct and performance in the Victorian Public Sector (VPS). The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) has primary responsibility for a range of related activities under that legislation.
- The VPCS also uphold the Victorian Public Sector Code of Conduct, which are based on the values set out in the Act.
Your health service will also have their own organisational values and associated practices that you need to be familiar with, usually aligned to the seven core Public Sector Values: responsiveness, integrity, impartiality, accountability, respect, leadership and human rights.
Health service governance
HSV has a number of probity-related functions and powers under the Health Services Act 1988 (Vic), which together provides the organisation with the responsibility to monitor and ensure that probity is maintained in Victorian health service’ procurement activities. HSV fulfils these responsibilities through its compliance program.
There are also three core and independent agencies in the Victorian integrity system that can also provide related information:
- Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC): IBAC exposes and prevents public sector corruption and police misconduct.
- Victorian Ombudsman: The Ombudsman investigates administrative actions of state government departments, local councils and statutory authorities.
- Victorian Auditor-General’s Office: The office provides independent assurance to the Parliament and the Victorian community on the financial integrity and performance of the state.
- Other agencies supporting a sound integrity system include; Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate, Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, and Commissions for the Victorian Public Sector, Judiciary and Equal Opportunity and Human Rights.
The Victorian State Government is committed to ethical, sustainable and socially responsible procurement. To support this commitment, a Supplier Code of Conduct has been implemented.
The Code applies to all general government sector contracts, agreements and purchase orders for the supply of goods and services, and construction works and services. It describes the minimum expectations that suppliers should aspire to meet in the areas of:
- integrity, ethics and conduct
- conflict of interest, gifts, benefits and hospitality
- corporate governance
- labour and human rights
- health and safety
- environmental management
Lobbying activities are expected to be performed ethically, transparently, according to the highest standards of professional conduct and in accordance with probity requirements. The Victorian Government Professional Lobbyist Code of Conduct (Code of Conduct) contains requirements designed to support these expectations. This includes registration requirements for Lobbyists and Government Affairs Directors.
If you are approached by a lobbyist, please refer to the Lobbyists Register website.
Market-led (or unsolicited) proposals
Market-led proposals (also referred to as 'unsolicited proposals') are ones made by the private sector to government to build infrastructure and/or provide services. It originates within the private sector and involves proponents developing a project or service specification and then approaching government for approval and support of the proposal.
These proposals are covered under the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) Market-led Proposal Guideline and are therefore separate from other standard government procurement practices. The guideline also contains a section on how probity is applied in these circumstances.
Please refer to the DTF website for more information.
Gifts, benefits and hospitality
A common probity risk is the giving and receiving of gifts, benefits and hospitality.
HSV recommends using Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) resources:
The VPSC gift/host test provides an easy to understand guide to decision-making around gifts and benefits. The best approach remains to 'declare and decline' if you are in doubt.
In 2016, the VPSC issued a framework, guidelines and resources for all Victorian public sector employees which details minimum accountability that are binding under Instruction 3.4.11 of the Standing Directions of the Minister for Finance 2018.
These instructions require all public sector organisations to update their Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality policy and to commence publishing it and their register on their health service website.
The VPSC guidelines provide a sample policy and register, including identification of what information may be withheld and what is required to be published.
HSV is also required to publish a register of gifts, benefits and hospitality and an accompanying procedure:
The Department of Health (DH) has also previously requested that health services comply with these requirements and provide them confirmation of the publication of policy and register documents, including a link to the specific web page to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each register should cover the period from the time the public sector organisation reviewed its policies against the VPSC policy framework and the end of the current financial year. From 2017-18, each register published should then cover the current and previous financial year.
It is therefore important that this ongoing and annual activity is assigned to an appropriate accountable executive and incorporated into your usual enterprise risk management, reporting or other relevant work programs.
Further information, support, and FAQs
Access the HSV Help Centre for a number of frequently asked questions in relation to probity in the health sector including; information on receiving gifts, supplier probity requirements and employing an external probity practitioner.
Use the following resources to assist in your understanding of probity guidelines in Victoria:
- State and National Policy, Framework and Guidelines Reference Guide
- HSV guide to ensuring probity in procurement practice
- HSV guide to probity risk in procurement practice
- HSV Health Purchasing Policies
- Health Service Policy Compliance
- Access information on HSV's probity training for health service employees