Introduction: The Challenges of Accountability in Public Organisation
Preventing the instances of fraud within an organisation or a specific community is extremely hard, since the phenomenon and mechanics of accountability, which is being pushed as the key to succeeding in inspiring people for being responsible, have not been studied yet to understand the issues that may emerge once the small universe of interpersonal trust and the sphere of organisation governance collide.
No matter how complicated and well thought out the system of organisation management might be and how verified the human resources might be, the instances of fraud will happen, which gives another reason to reconsider the strategies used for securing the organisation and its resources.
However, once fraud occurs within a community, it begs a question whether an organisation lacks efficient management, or the company leader has put his or her trust into a wrong person.
Definition of accountability: embracing the associated problems
Though accountability might seem quite a simple concept to define, in fact, its essence is very hard to nail down, mainly because accountability is often confused with responsibility (Accountability map n. d., p. 4), the latter being a major part of the phenomenon in question.
There are sources that consider accountability restricted to an obligation to give account of an organisation’s fiscal policies: “Another way we encounter public accountability is as conceptual architects of political institutions” (Dowdle 2006, p. 12); other sources assume that accountability also involves various social responsibilities, defining it as “an issue which affects all levels of government and public administration in democratic societies” (Nosworthy 1999, p. 24), which makes the definition quite vague, seeing how social responsibilities are not as easy to list as the financial ones.
At present, the definitions provided by Chai (“public accountability is a major determinant of public service performance” (Chai 2009, p. 59)) and Khan (“Public accountability is the hallmark of modern democratic governance” (Khan 2008, p. 188) seem the most comprehensive.
Forms of accountability related to the case in question
Due to the lack of clarity in nailing down the nature and the very phenomenon of accountability, there is also little agreement concerning the forms that accountability may take.
There are schools that consider accountability as a wholesome phenomenon that cannot be split into subcategories (i.e., either there is accountability in the community, or there is not), as Moreno does (Mainwaring & Welna 2003, p. 20); others split accountability into two major fields, i. e, politics and everyday issues related accountability (Dowdle 2006, p. 54); some develop a complex system of subcategories into which public accountability can be split (Bovens 2007, p. 104).
Since at present, accountability can be categorised into different subtypes in accordance with various parameters (Topic four: political, Ethical and organisational accountability n. d., p. 255), it will be reasonable to list each of them, giving more detailed descriptions for the ones that are going to be used in the given research.
Conflicts of interest, gifts and benefits
While it must be admitted that the case in point is not as much about the conflict of interests as it is about the violation of social morals and regulations, it is important to keep in mind that the hesitation of the Museum’s CEO regarding the punishment for the crime.
Since the thief belongs to the community, the CEO clearly faces a conflict between the need to punish the thief and to provide the latter with an opportunity for redemption for the sake of the community.
Use of public resources
The given issue is especially important for the case study in question, since unfair use of charity money is going to be discussed.
Record keeping and use of information
It can be assumed that, with a better record-keeping policy regarding the staff, the Museum CEO and staff could have avoided the given issue.
Fraudulent and corrupt behavior
Since theft is classified as a type of corrupt behaviour, the given aspect is also going to be considered.
Communication and official information
While making a direct link between the case of theft analysed in the given paper and the problem of communication is quite a stretch, it can still be assumed that establishing a reliable governance structure, which has clearly failed in the given case, requires that specific information should be available to the organisation members.
The last, but definitely not the least, the aspect of morals and behaviour must be touched upon, seeing how the charity money, not the one that belonged to the organisation, was stolen.
Even though the given case is a graphic example of what happens when the rust in a particular person or a member of an organisation has been misplaced, it can be assumed that, apart from a personal factor, the given incident took place mostly due to the imperfections in the strategy applied to check the governance structure being in place, which gives another reason to reconsider the existing system of the Museum management; otherwise, similar instances are most likely to occur in the nearest future.
The Case and Its Analysis: the Many Faces of Accountability
The case describing the instance of fraud and the abuse of power can, in fact, be approached from several sides, depending on the aspect of accountability that the case in question is being considered from.
As it has been stressed, the basic dilemma in the given situation can be related to the choice between the legally correct and morally justified decisions (Graycar & Sidebottom 2012, p. 384).
However, by casting the given dilemma aside, one will be able to reveal more hidden innuendoes in the given problem.
Discussing the back story: case summary
The case of theft that is being analysed in the given paper can be summarised in several sentences; however, it is comparatively hard to cope with, seeing how it incorporates several viewpoints regarding the theft, i.e., the one of the existing Australian legislation, the one concerning the fall in the moral standards of the community, and the necessity to reintroduce better standards to the members of the organisation in order to avoid the further instances of the same kind.
According to the details of the case, $200 of donation money was stolen from the Western Australian Museum.
After a short investigation, the senior financial manager was suspected, which led to his resignation and tarnished reputation.
As soon as the instances of theft reoccurred, investigation was conducted, revealing two people, including the SFM, being in charge of the fraud. The fact that the SFM was the thief left the entire staff and the CEO completely shocked.
List of dilemmas to be faced: a tough call
As it has been stressed above, the primary dilemma of the given case concerns the choice that the Western Australian Museum CEO have to make in defining the priority of the further course of actions and the evaluation of the problem of fraud, i.e., the choice between the reinforcement of moral values and the reconsideration of the existing rules and regulations as for the governance structure of the Museum.
The given decision is by far more complicated than it might seem from the position of a legal person, since it questions the necessity to reinforce that the organisation’s moral values and ethical principles.
Since each of the choices takes considerable amount of time to be corrected, it is crucial to choose wisely.
Analysis of the current concerns: what has been overlooked
Dilemma #1: managerial responsibility vs. communication limitations
Communication issues are an integral part of the organisation mechanism. No matter how well organised the information management processes are, there will always be information leakage, misinterpretation of facts, or any other issue concerning information acquisition, transfer, or distribution.
Thus, the company will clearly have to face the problem of either dozing information to every single staff member in accordance with his/her rank or trusting every employee enough to allow him/her the access to the corporate database.
Dilemma #2: user/consumer responsibility vs. personal convictions
Speaking of the unfair use of public resources in connection with the given case, one must mention such aspect of accountability as the responsibility to the user as opposed to the personal convictions of the CEO of the organisation.
As the case study shows, every single member of the staff was completely baffled when realising that their suspicions were true.
However, by firing the financial manager, the CEO of the organisation also ruined the chances of the suspect for being employed as a financial manager. As the case study shows, to take the given step, the CEO had to make a deal with his conscience, therefore, facing a moral dilemma.
Dilemma #3: legal responsibility vs. the responsibility to a member of the community
As it has been stressed, the issue in question revolves around either choosing to reinforce the existing regulations concerning the work at the Museum and the enhancement of organisational behaviour principles within the mini-community that the Museum staff represents.
However, there is another way to look at the problem. By refusing to improve the standards of organisational behaviour at the Museum, the CEO puts the rest of the staff in peril, since false accusations may possibly arise, etc.
It is important that, when approaching the problem from the standpoint of human factor, which is an inevitable downside of involving people, the concept of accountability has approached the idea of responsibility, which, as it has been emphasised, are quite different ideas that only cross at some pints.
Dilemma #4: professional responsibility vs. its current boundaries
The aspect of fraudulent and corrupt behaviour definition, which is another type of accountability as interpreted in recent researches, is a nonetheless challenging issue.
Despite the fact that the given problem might seem rather far-fetched in regards to the issue in question, the standards for defining probable issues of fraud are quite questionable.
To avoid further complexities, the Museum CEO will have to consider the behaviour of the employees more closely; however, the question is, whether the people with impeccable professional record yet rather doubtful aspects of their personal life should be listed in the potential risk group.
Dilemma #5: choosing between personal trust and governance structure
The last, but definitely not the least, the issue concerning conflicts of interest, gifts, and benefits must be mentioned. Indeed, when asking why the Museum managers are so hesitant when it comes to the choice between the improvement of the current regulations and the process of raising awareness of all those concerned, therefore, reducing the probability of another fraud, one will inevitably realise that the first option is definitely the easiest one, yet clearly not the most efficient.
No matter how the rules are going to be reinforced, people will always find an avenue that will allow them to get a hold of the Museum possessions illegally. The second option, however, is much more time-consuming.
Therefore, it is clear that at present, the Museum CEOs do not take the moral concerns into account, which they should, seeing how a change in the moral principles will necessarily trigger a behavioural change, not vice versa.
Results and Their Evaluation: Regarding the Possible Issues
When it comes to the actual analysis of the possible steps that the Museum’s CEOs could make and what it would lead them to, one must admit that the ethical issue and the enhancement of regulations hare quite related to each other in that without the former, the latter would be of little use.
To give credit to where it belongs, the current Australian code concerning the accountability in public sector and the punishable offences like frauds is pretty much complete.
For example, the report paper by eh Association of the Certified Fraud Examiners (2012) offers sixteen distinct features of a fraud being planned, which means that, when applied the right way, precaution measures can be rather efficient.
However, it is necessary to admit that, the more rules are issued, the harder people will seek for avenues for bending these rules. Therefore, it is necessary to reinvent people’s idea of fraud within organisational setting.
Positive effects: exploring the opportunities
For all the moral controversies around the case, it clearly helped to outline the basic concerns for the organisation to solve.
Negative effects: what seems to be the problem
When one comes to think of the choices that the CEO of the Museum has made so far, one must admit that there is hardly anything redeemable about the given steps.
While the staff and the CEO admittedly acknowledged that they put considerable trust into the person who finally happened to be the criminal, the former does nothing to solve the obvious problem, i.e., the inefficiency of the current moral values.
While the enhancement of rules and regulations seems to be the saving grace at the moment, soon the Museum will suffer another case of fraud unless the basics of organisational values are cemented in the employees’ mind.
Conclusion: Where the Story Ends
Even though the case in point has been considered from a variety of angles, the key implications remain the same.
The analysis of the similar cases that have occurred in the recent history points at the fact that creating the environment that can be one hundred percent safe from fraud is practically impossible.
However, these studies also show that, for the most part, both the flaws in the regulation system and the misplacement of the staff, i.e., assigning the wrong person with a financial responsibility, trigger the instances of organisational fraud, as the case study by Romzek and Dubnick shows (Romzek & Dubnick 1987, p. 327).
Thesis proven: the case of fraud disclosed
While the case in point clearly shows that the organisation in which the instance of fraud took place lacks in competence regarding employee psychology; in addition, since the fraud was committed by one of the employees, it can be assumed that the leadership strategy accepted among the managers of the given organisation also leaves much to be desired.
The given revelation leads to two major conclusions, i.e., a) the regulations for the managers of the Museum are incompetent and b) due to the faults of the regulations, the trust was reposed into a wrong person.
Therefore, not only did the two factors shape the existing situation, but also one of these factors was induced by another one.
Recommendations and commentaries
Making recommendations seems especially hard in the given case, seeing how the current Australian rules concerning fraud detection have become less flimsy over the past few years and do not allow for the choice between morals and law; in any case, it is the law that wins.
However, one should still take the instances of fraud in a community as a sign of people being exposed to negative factors and, therefore, seeking the means to get rid of these factors or, at the very least, disclose all their threats and possible negative outcomes to the community.
Once people are aware of danger, they will be able to seek the means to avoid it.
Accountability map n. d., Public Sector Commission, Australia. Association of the Certified Fraud Examiners 2012, 2012 report to the nations. Web.
Bovens, M 2007, ‘New forms of accountability and EU-governance,’ Comparative European Politics, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 104–120.
Chai, N 2009, Sustainability performance evaluation system in government: a balanced scorecard approach towards sustainable development, Springer, New York, NY.
Dowdle, M W 2006, Public accountability: designs, dilemmas and experiences, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Graycar, A & Sidebottom, A 2012, ‘Corruption and control: a corruption reducing approach,’ Journal of Financial Crime, vol. 19 no. 4, pp. 284–299.
Khan, H A 2008, An introduction to public administration, University Press of America, Washington, DC.
Nosworthy, B A 1999, Role of the auditor general in public accountability: some issues, Universal Publishers, Boca Raton, FL.
Romzek, B S & Dubnick, M J 1987, ‘Accountability in the public sector: lessons from the challenged tragedy,’ Public Administration Review, vol. 47 no. 3, pp. 227–238.
Topic four: political, Ethical and organisational accountability n. d., pp. 255–292.