1 October, 2009
Recommendation # 4 - Ethics education
The CMC recommends that ethics education programs include adequate attention to ... conflicts of interest which disadvantage or cause a detriment. ...
Recommendation # 25 - Codes of Conduct
The CMC recommends that all agencies seek to find ways to improve the working effectiveness of their codes, through training, regular updates, effective consultation and public commitment to ethical conduct.
Recommendation # 26 - Role of the Public Service Commission
The CMC recommends that the Public Service Commission take a more active role in the oversight of the conduct and actions of government agencies.
The CMC seem to be lobbying for the Public Service Commission to take over responsibility for investigating Queensland public service corruption.
... when an official's actions and decisions are open to scrutiny, not only by their superiors, peers and official oversight agencies, but also by the media and the general public, ... opportunity is severely limited and the risk of detection rises.
Accordingly, to minimise the risk of corruption, every strategy to increase the transparency of government should be explored and, wherever practicable, implemented without delay.
The principle of transparency applies to all aspects of public administration, and relies upon :
- systems and processes which can be understood by the uninitiated
- communication in plain language and using the minimum of jargon and obscure expression
- independent, merit based and and evidence-based processes for making decisions
- publication of sound, fair and eqitable reasons for decisions which are made
- rigorous processes at all levels to ensure that and conflict of interest, pecuniary or non-pecuniary, is openly declared and appropriately managed.
Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure. Effective management of misconduct and complaints alleging misconduct shows both employees and the community that such matters are dealt with honestly, fairly and openly. Openness about the way inappropriate conduct is addressed and managed can be an effective deterrent.
The CMC's devolution strategy is a key change-maker. It is targeted towards an evolution of management attitude,
I have seen no evidence of any such evolution of management attitude.
"Devolution" - i.e. allowing Queensland Public Service Departments to investigate themselves - does not seem to be working.
... and the changes to organisational culture which flow from it.
Organisations come to appreciate that complaints, and even identified instances of misconduct, are learning experiences, opportunities to discover ways to do the job better.
At the moment they seem to be learning that they can delay an investigation for years and then produce a report full of absolute gibberish.
And that the gibberish will be "accepted" by the CMC.
Agencies are encouraged in the development and monitoring of processes which ensure that misconduct is effectively prevented.
On the rare occasions that it does occur, the processes and monitoring are desgned to address the issues effectively, and to use each instance constructively for the ongoing improvement of the organisation.
Can the CMC nominate one Queensland government department in which this golden dream has been achieved?
An agency which cannot learn from the abuses which sometimes occur is an agency which cannot improve.
So what exactly did Education Queensland learn from their abuse of me?
"We can get away with it if we delay the investigation for years and then all tell the investigator that we can't remember what we did or why we did it?"
Ethics education (Green Paper question # 4)
A range of miscellaneous issues ... tend to slip from the forefront of consciousness in the ethical decision-making process ...
- In identifying possible conflicts of interest, there are a range of non-pecuniary interests which are of considerable relevance. Membership of community groups (eg. branches of certain political parties) ... social networks (family, friends, campaign managers, wives of workmates) - all are susceptible to being perceived as influencing an official position or decision. Education about the perception of these non-pecuniary ties is important to ensure that appropriate conflict of interest declarations are made by officials.
- Conflict of interest is not limited to an opportunity to seek an advantage for oneself or others. It also includes opportunities to harm, disadvantage or cause a detriment to persons or organisations. Targets of disadvantage can (include people with) ... professional differences, personal disputes and political, professional or cultural rivalries. It is important that all definitions and education programs include this aspect. ...
Responsibility for dealing with complaints
The CMC strongly opposes the suggestion that it takes sole responsibility for dealing with complaints, for two principal reasons-
- external complaint management will not lead to positive cultural or systemic change within the Queensland public sector.
- it would mean more than doubling the CMC's budget and operational capacity.
Devolution is about strengthening public sector agencies integrity, accountability and misconduct resistance.
In my experience it is about turning a blind eye to the corruption.
It is about accepting "outcomes" that are falsified gibberish.
It does not mean that the CMC ... will stop holding agencies accountable for the way in which they deal with complaints of misconduct.
In my experience, the CMC does not "hold agencies accountable".
The CMC accepts gibberish.
The CMC will also continue to take a lead role in building the capacity of agencies to prevent and deal with misconduct.
In my experience, the CMC have a very, very long way to go with this.
Education Queensland, for example, seems to take no interest in preventing or dealing with misconduct.
Misconduct / corruption/ professional negligence / incompetence / workplace abuse etc. seem to be systemic.
This is the problem.
So long as an agency relies upon the ever-present oversight agency to deal with complaints, it will be unable as an organisation to accept responsibility and embrace accountability in its own right.
Poor performance and misconduct will continue to be perceived as the oversight body's problem, and standards will not improve.
Only when an agency takes responsibility for its own culture of integrity, and extends that responsibility downwards from the senior management to line managers and individual employees, will it fully appreciate that ethical behaviour is integral to its operations.
OK, we understand the theory.
But do the CMC understand that it is not happening?
Leaving public service Departments to investigate themselves is not working!
Because the corruption / negligence / abuse is systemic.
Managers must embrace complaints about misconduct as a positive learning opportunity, a tool for them to address any inappropriate conduct of an employee and any systemic issues, control failures, policy and procedural deficiencies, poor workplace culture and standards ...
But, in my experience, they don't.
Queensland public service Departments "lose" complaints and produce falsified "final outcomes" that are full of gibberish.
How can Departments learn from complaints if the CMC accept their gibberish?
... in a New South Wales case ... the court awarded $664,270 in damages to a police officer on the grounds that his employer had breached its duty of care to the officer.
In order to encourage public officers to disclose corruption and misconduct of which they become aware, it is necessary not only to promise protection and to take active steps to provide that protection, but also to ensure that there is an adequate system of compensation should that protection, for whatever reason, fail.
Offence of misconduct in public office (Green Paper questions # 31, 32)
Effective prevention and minimisation of misconduct depends in aprt on potential offenders knowing that there is a real and potent punishment in store for wrong-doers.
... there is no doubt at all that if there is no penalty for particular misconduct, many people would feel that there is no reason not to engage in it.
Deliberate failure and wilful neglect.
... a man was violently assaulted by a number of men who beat and kicked him to death.
(An Engish police) constable took no steps to intevene inthe assault and when it was over merely drove away. He was charged with the common law offence of misconduct in public office. Lord Widgery, in delivering the decision of the Court of Appeal, said :
The allegation made was not of mere non-feasance but of deliberate failure and wilful neglect. This involves an element of culpability which is not restricted to corruption or dishonesty but which must be of such a degree that the misconduct impugned is calculated to injure the public interest so as to call for condemnation and ppunishment. ...
A Queensland public servant was asked to "review" a teacher's complaint that she was being bullied. All but the first page of her complaint had been "lost". But a mass of falsified documents had been placed in the teacher's official file to create the false impression that they had been discussed with her during the process of her Stage 1 Grievance. The public servant was instructed to base his "review" on the falsified "records" and not to "consider" the teacher's response to the falsified "records".
So what should the "reviewer" do?
While it is true that an apology does not fix a problem, experience shows that it is a powerful signal that the gravity of the issue is appreciated, and that the feelings of the aggrieved person are accorded proper respect. An apology undoubtedly provides satisfaction to many complainants ...
...complainants quickly (and justly) become resentful of a government culture which denies imperfection and will not genuinely engage with them.
An apology is a good start, but if the Department really regret the error they should "put it right".
For example, if an irrational and unjust decision to put a teacher into a punishment program has been placed on that teacher's official record - in breach of several Departmental policies - that teacher will have to declare that detrimental decision to all future employers.
The unjust decision should be withdrawn.
I understand that the actual document cannot be destroyed, but all copies of the document could be annotated to say that the decision has been withdrawn.
Then the professional harm to the teacher would be minimised.
Trade Unions and the QTU in particular.
The CMC also notes that trade unions which have coverage over government employees do not generally have codes of conduct or other ethical frameworks which govern their actions or set standards for their behaviour or provide them with guidance when ethical dilemmas arise.
While the members of these organisations are bound by the relevant agency Code of Conduct, paid officials of the unions are not.
A considerable number of unions have members who are employed in the public sector and the conduct of those unions and the decisions made by them have a considerable impact on the conduct and behaviour of public officials.
It is acknowleged that no power exists or should exist to enable the government to regulate the conduct or action of such bodies.
However, it would be adventageous to the relationship between these bodies and the government and its agencies that the unions should voluntarily develop ethical frameworks.
Voluntary codes or ethical frameworks could provide useful assistance and guidelines, especially in dealing with grievances, disputes and disciplinary matters where the interests of one member may be in conflict with the interests of another, or with the interests of the majority of members in the workplace or in general.
In particular, guidelines are desirable to ensure that the union's duty to support and protect a member accused of misconduct should not lead it to sacrifice the interests of other members affected by the alleged misconduct.
One of the interests commonly endangered in this way is the members' wish to be perceived by the public as honest and ethical.
While support should certainly be provided to members as a right, partisan, energetic and vocal defence of members who are proven to be dishonets or unethical can severely damage the public perception of the ethical conduct of all members.
Strengthening Codes (green paper questions # 2, 35)
The CMC, in its regular dealings with agencies, has identified a general need for agencies to place a greater emphasis on training and education.
Staff (and especially senior staff) need to be regularly reminded about their obligations.
It is equally important that the agency be visibly committed to ethical conduct, and placing a high priority on Code updates and awareness is a crucial part of this.
The CMC has recently received information that ministerial staff frequently avoid Code of Conduct training (which is provided to them by Ministerial Services).
Given the key exposure of staff in these positions, coupled with the fact that they are frequently political rather than public service appointees, it is vital that Code of Conduct and ethical decision-making training be compulsory within a short time (no more than three months) of commencement, and that strong measures (suspension of salary, termination of contract) be in place to enforce this.
Similar concerns are heard from time to time from other agencies, especially in regard to senior management and other high level staff, who often claim to be 'too busy' to attend.
This sends a very poor message to less elevated staff about the ethical commitment and standards of management and of the organisation as a whole.
All agencies are encouraged to put in place strict attendance requirements, as the effectiveness of codes of conduct is heavily dependent on the commitment of the agency's senior management.