The WA Department of Finance is investigating nine fraudulent applications relating to the State Government’s ‘building bonus grant’ which forms part of WA’s $2.77 billion COVID-19 recovery plan.
Police allege a Scarborough man received $80,000 after he lodged four successful applications, while the remaining five applications have been suspended.
Police have advised all nine fraud-related offences have been referred to the Financial Crimes Squad for investigation.
In March, Deloitte released its Australian Bribery and Corruption Report which warned the COVID-19 crisis could elevate the risks of fraud and corruption.
The report found fraudsters were specifically targeting government assistance programs intended for COVID-19 relief, while vendor and subcontractor fraud was expected to increase as business cut corners.
Director of UWA’s Public Policy Institute Professor Shamit Saggar says when spending programs are rushed there is room for slippages in accountability and due diligence.
“Programs generally can have a background level of fraudulent application,” he says.
“Do those in particular sectors who want to cut corners, who want to take advantage of spending priorities and budgets that need to be spent quickly, do they become more involved at this particular time? Well cases from all over the world tell us they do.
“These things are not uncommon when there is significant uplift in public expenditure.”
Professor Saggar says the current recovery plan will see winners and losers with the financially disadvantaged most impacted by policies favouring construction and those with access to the property market.
“This recovery plan obviously is very heavily geared towards infrastructure and building,” he says.
“Choices have been made and sectors that are favoured in particular as a result of this are presumably our strongest and most powerful sectors to begin with.
“By putting a lot of money into that sector it may well be all you’re doing is making things more expensive and therefore unaffordable.”
WA Police’s Financial Crimes Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Ken Foster says any suspected fraudulent claims for public monies will be investigated.
“Any attempt to defraud the WA Government by fraudulently claiming public funds is viewed as a serious criminal offence, and those responsible for such unlawful conduct can expect to be thoroughly investigated,” he says.
Commissioner of State Revenue Nicki Godecke says following the charges the public can now have greater confidence in the scheme and the rigorous assessment process.
“If anything, this shows the rigorous application checking process is working to identify people who are not entitled to the grant,” she says.
Following the allegations changes have been made to the scheme to refuse payment to a person if misleading information is provided.
The accused man is due to appear in Perth Magistrates Court on October 7.