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Author: David Brown
Often there appears to be confusion about the drivers for keeping records and the role of the Public Records Act (PRAct). A good example of this confusion can be seen in the often repeated statement; “The Public Records Act makes public servants keep records.” Actually, the need for public servants to keep records is not driven by the PRAct. Further, even if there was no PRAct, public servants would still need to keep records of their activities. Consider:
1. Governments create agencies and employ public servants/contractors to do something. Records are required as evidence that these people are doing that something for which they were employed.
2. The government and all Victorians are interested in ensuring effectiveness and efficiency. As a result agencies are required to supply a range of reports based on accurate documentation (records) of the activities undertaken.
3. Government and the public allocate funds to agencies and want to ensure that these funds are appropriately employed. As a result records are required to prove that funds are properly acquitted.
4. There is a whole raft of legislation that identifies the need to keep records not related to the specific purpose of the agency. As a result records are required to demonstrate compliance to health and safety, privacy, public release of information requirements plus many more.
A cursory review of Victorian Government policy will see the breadth and depth of non PRAct recordkeeping requirements expectations and requirements. Just three examples are enough (see the parts that I have underlined):
1. Public Sector Code of Conduct . For instance s5.4 identifies that Public Servants should be open to scrutiny. Public sector employees implement government policy in an open and transparent manner. They maintain accurate and reliable records as required by relevant legislation, policies and procedures. Records are kept in such a way as to ensure their security and reliability and are made available to appropriate scrutiny when required.
2. Victorian Government Procurement Board . For instance s1. Purchase of Goods or Services less than $25,000. A minimum of one written quote is to be obtained. (a department may adopt a practice of accepting a minimum of one verbal quote for values up to 10% of the above threshold. Details of the offer from a supplier are to be documented and filed appropriately)
3. The Financial Management Compliance Framework (FMCF) User Guide . For instance Requirement 1 identifies that the “CFAO and/or the Accountable Officer have an obligation to provide a statement to the Responsible Body stating that:
- the financial reports present fairly, in all material respects, of the financial condition and operating results of the Agency
- the financial reports have been prepared in accordance with the Financial Management Act 1994 including the Directions
What the PRAct and the Records Management Standards do is:
1. ensure that responsibilities for records and recordkeeping are clearly identified. In summary PROV is responsible for setting standards (advising) and Heads of Agencies are responsible for delivering good records and recordkeeping .
2. provide standards that allow the consistency of practice and definitions to support implementable minimum standard policies and practices. If there was no PRAct, then there would be:
- an increase in the financial costs of doing government business. There are hundreds of government departments and agencies and tens of thousands of public servants. Each agency would repeat the development of records management standards or wouldn’t have any, supporting irregular and inconsistent practices.
- an increase in the regulatory burden of government to the Victorian community. The requirements for the public and public servants would vary from agency to agency. Without a coordinating set of Standards being provided, each of the agencies and therefore the public servants that work for them would create and use different arrangements and standards from the ineffective to the over servicing.
- a decrease in the ability of government to deliver efficiencies and better services. Consistency of records management practice supports the capture and management of data and records, allowing government to interchange data, manage of machinery of government changes, undertake data mining and reporting and more effectively compare value over time.
In summary, the PRAct and the related recordkeeping standards provide government with consistency of practice, reduce costs and support improvements and efficiency of service delivery.
David Brown, Assistant Director, Government Services, Public Record Office Victoria.