Thursday, February 18, 2016

The TEC and whistleblower protections

Yesterday at select committee, the Tertiary Education Commission revealed that tertiary institutions had rorted it for $28 million. They also said that they couldn't protect whistleblowers who tipped them off to this fraud:

Mr Cunliffe also asked if the commission could protect whistleblowers who alerted it to potential fraud.

Mr Spencer replied that it could not.

"We're not their employer. We can give them protection in terms of what's available under the legislation but we couldn't say to the employer 'now don't sue them'. We can't do that, we don't have that ability," he said.

Mr Cunliffe later told RNZ News it was not good enough and the commission must do more.

"I would like to see them make a public commitment that if a whistleblower came forward to them that they would offer to treat them in confidence," he said.

Cunliffe clearly hasn't read the Protected Disclosures Act 2000. Section 19 of the Act requires agencies receiving a protected disclosure to treat it in confidence. If the TEC isn't doing this, they're breaking the law.

And they're not the only ones. According to the article, "a whistleblower who alerted the commission to proven problems at a tertiary institute was now being sued for bringing it into disrepute". Section 18 of the Act grants immunity from such suits. The Act also effectively forbids sacking whistleblowers, though the ability to take a personal grievance suit for unlawful dismissal is a fairly weak protection. And if whistleblowers exposing fraud in the tertiary education sector are being persecuted, it suggests that existing protections are not strong enough. In Australia it is a criminal offence to retaliate against a whistleblower. That seems like a really good idea.