You may have noticed I recently released an important report into the treatment of whistle-blowers within the Ministry of Transport, completed by Sandi Beatie QSO as an independent investigator. This report has highlighted some issues around speaking up in the Public Service that concern me.
When I released Sandi Beatie’s report I said “It is vital that Public Servants can raise concerns about suspected wrong-doing safely and without fear of punishment or reprisal.” This isn’t just something written in a press release because it sounds good – it is my strongly held view and something I take very seriously.
Here in New Zealand our Public Service is internationally recognised as one of the world’s most trustworthy. This comes down in very large part to the integrity, decency and commitment that the vast majority of Public Servants bring to their role every day.
In order to maintain these high standards, when something is wrong we need to know.
If someone is stealing or committing fraud, which is rare in our system, this needs to be found and stopped. The reality is that if something like this is happening, it probably won’t be an agency’s senior leaders, or the Serious Fraud Office, or the SSC that notices it. It will be other people within the agency who realise something isn’t adding up.
Speaking up isn’t just about fraud or criminal wrong doing though. Concerns could be about anything that Public Servants are concerned about or think doesn’t seem right. It is essential that when someone sees something they are concerned about, for any reason, that they raise it so it can be looked into and dealt with.
When people raise issues, they have to be able to do that safely and confidently, with a process that is clear, easy to understand and simple to access.
To make sure this happens I have issued model standards for all State sector agencies to use. These standards are designed to give agencies a system they can simply put into practice to give them and their staff what they need. If an agency wants to do better and go further, then I am all for them doing that.
In the case of the Ministry of Transport, we had four Public Servants who saw things that weren’t right and they stood up and raised their concerns. They did the right thing and they ended up being disadvantaged. That isn’t good enough.
I have thanked these individuals for what they did, and apologised to them for what happened as a result. I have also made sure that we put things right and that they got proper redress for what happened to them - that is the right thing to do.
I don’t want to see Public Servants in this position again, and I am committed to making sure that we make the improvements we need to and the system is made stronger so what happened to these people hasn’t been in vain.