Taxpayers footed the bill for public servants’ funeral costs after one organisation in Victoria doled out at least $30,000 to memorialise staff.

This was despite the unnamed organisation being bound by the Victorian Public Sector Commission’s rules around gift giving, which stated employees could be given “token offers” worth under $50.

Despite that, it bought crystal bowls costing almost $500 each to gift as long service awards and gave an executive an antique hat costing more than $150 as a leaving present, Victoria’s integrity watchdog has revealed.

The public sector organisation, which the watchdog did not name, also footed the bill for thousands of dollars worth of traffic fines, which should have been paid by staff.

It also spent at least $30,000 in public money on funeral and memorial costs for staff who died in circumstances unrelated to their work.

Just how much was spent on funerals was impossible to know given not all the organisation’s invoices were accurately recorded, the Victorian Ombudsman found.

The watchdog, which on Wednesday revealed the practice in a report about misconduct in public organisations, said some workers believed they were justified in how they spent public money. One director at the organisation said paying for staff members’ funeral costs was part of the culture, although another senior financial worker said: “I don’t think the public sector should pay for funerals.”

In response to recommendations by the ombudsman, though, the organisation ultimately reviewed its policies and processes, starting monthly reconciliations of credit card purchases to check transactions were business-related.

The gifting policy also now explicitly states when gifts are appropriate and how much can be spent.

It prohibits paying for funeral-related expenses.

The case was just one example of misconduct detailed in the ombudsman’s report.

“Conflicts of interest, favouritism, and misuse of public funds continue to feature, as they have in previous Ombudsman reports,” Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said.

“But the stories are different, and each holds valuable lessons from which others can learn.”

The case of the organisation paying for funeral costs showed policies needed to be clear and comprehensive, and organisations needed to carefully consider whether gifts were in the public interest, Ms Glass said.

It also proved the importance of organisations keeping accurate records, she said.

Source: AAP