Knowing how to blow the whistle
15 November 2011
It was 15 months ago that the State Services Commissioner published findings of the 2010 Integrity Survey. Eight practices were recommended that would improve traction of the code of conduct. A primary requirement is that agencies publish and promote their protected disclosures policy and republish it at regular intervals, as required by the Protected Disclosures Act; ie what was required is that agencies comply with the law!
The purpose of the Protected Disclosures Act is to facilitate reports of serious wrongdoing by agency staff and to protect them from retribution, as far as is compatible with fairness and justice. But staff need to know about the policy if they are to be encouraged to report wrongdoing.
Other jurisdictions have much greater faith in the effectiveness of whistleblowing. This is well illustrated by new measures by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. SEC has set up an “Office of the Whistleblower” with a published policy on the rewards that will be paid for providing information that results in convictions. “The Commission is authorized by Congress to provide monetary awards to eligible individuals who come forward with high-quality original information that leads to a Commission enforcement action in which over $1,000,000 in sanctions is ordered. The range for awards is between 10% and 30% of the money collected….”
The New Zealand character seems unwilling to blow the whistle within organisations. Collegiality seems to predominate. Agencies that have set up hotlines have experienced minimal use. SEC bounty-type schemes are not likely to have any greater effect. Interestingly, the Auditor General’s report on the public sector Fraud Survey published last week indicates that across the sector a very high percentage of agencies have a protected disclosures policy. In almost all agency types, this is substantially higher than the 35% of State servants who said that they were aware of their agency having a policy, when responding to the 2007 integrity survey.