14 January 2013

The Economist predicted that 2012 would be the year of the whistleblower. That may have been the case in the United States as illustrated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS with high profile cases rewarding informants with a percentage of penalties imposed – but there was less of a groundswell elsewhere.  

In the Britain, it was December before Whistleblowers UK, a support groups for potential whistleblowers, was established to complement the activities of Public Concern at Work.  The Leveson inquiry and related Police investigations suggest that the media remains the preferred vehicle for disclosing matters going seriously off the rails in organisations.  A justification claimed by a Metropolitan Police chief inspector when convicted last week of “leaking” details of a police operation to a newspaper perhaps typifies this attitude.  DCI April Casburn is reported to have claimed that “…it’s not uncommon for a lot of people to use the press, for politicians to get a story out, to have something released or a wrongdoing to be exposed. I think in some circumstances it’s right to go to the press because they do expose wrongdoing and they do expose poor decisions….”

 In Australia there have been legislative amendments during the year to whistleblowing provisions in several states. Whistleblowing made the news in the trial of senior Reserve Bank employees involved in making corrupt payments over a number of years to win banknote production contracts. The whistleblower told the Court that his repeated reports were ignored as a “conspiracy” against senior managers.  Corruption involving  Securency (half owned by the Australian Government) appears to have spread beyond South East Asian countries with the arrest yesterday of the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria for bribes received in return for commissioning banknote manufacturing from Securency.

“Whistleblower Tour” is the description of material posted on the State Services Commission website, relating to a presentation by Professor A J Brown, of Griffiths University, Queensland, when visiting Wellington in November 2012.  The material is primarily about the Australian public sector experience – in Federal and State Governments –  and incorporates findings from the extensive research published under the tag of “Whistling while they Work”.

The whistleblowing tour, having an Australian focus, does not seem to have been used as a vehicle for reinforcing the obligations on all who work in the New Zealand public sector to follow processes set out in their agency protected disclosure policy should they encounter any serious wrongdoing at work. The Protected Disclosures Act requires agencies to periodically republish their policies so that staff have a familiarity with that policy. In 2011 a survey by the Auditor General found that awareness of protected disclosure policies was variable – averaging 71.2% across all of government.

In October 2012 the Ombudsmen’s Office issued revised guidance on Blowing the whistle – making a protected disclosure.