Monday November 24, 2014

Government agencies should be accountable


Either Saskatchewan’s public service is extraordinarily honest, or public servants are simply not coming forward to report wrongdoing.

In an annual report tabled last week, the province’s public interest disclosure commissioner, Mary McFadyen, reported only three public servants made disclosures in 2013-2014.

“There are about 12,000 public servants in Saskatchewan,” said McFadyen. “So, we have to ask why there were only three disclosures. Are public servants aware of our office? Perhaps they are choosing to disclose wrongdoings internally and if they do, are the proper procedures in place?”

More likely, people are still afraid to come forward, which McFadyen acknowledges.

“Speaking out is not easy and those who do need to be supported and protected,” she said.

That protection was ostensibly provided with the passing of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA). It is basically “whistleblower” legislation designed to protect those who see wrongdoing from reprisals if they seek advice about making a disclosure in accordance with the Act, make a protected disclosure, cooperate in an investigation, or decline to participate in any wrongdoing.

Wrongdoing under PIDA is defined as: an unlawful act that contravenes provincial or federal legislation; a substantial and specific danger to person(s) or the environment; gross mismanagement of public funds or assets; counseling to commit a wrongdoing; or a reprisal.

It does not include personal or workplace grievances such as bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination.

The penalties for individuals who take reprisals against a whistleblower ranges to $10,000.

Critics of the Act say it doesn’t go far enough as it only covers direct government employees and not those who work in arms-length government-funded agencies such as the health regions. McFadyen acknowledges her office has been receiving inquiries and says she “will continue to monitor these inquiries [sic] and will engage the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to explore the possibility of extending the protections of the Act to more of these organizations,” according to a press release dated July 29, 2014.

Of the three disclosures referred to in the  report, two are under investigation and the third is being assessed.



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