Case Summaries 2019-2020
Alleged mismanagement of government funding (Referral)
A discloser alleged that a ministry employee approved funding to a stakeholder who was not eligible to receive it and that an employee from the same ministry had approved funding for a stakeholder who had failed to comply with some of the application requirements. The deputy minister investigated the allegations and determined that they were unfounded.
Regarding the first allegation, the deputy determined that the government funding was provided in accordance with internal policies and procedures. As for the second allegation, the evidence indicated that the manner in which funding was distributed did not contravene any policies or procedures. The Commissioner was satisfied with the investigation and the conclusions reached and closed his file on the matter.
Alleged mismanagement of overtime claims (Investigation)
It was alleged that a public servant engaged in fraud by claiming excessive overtime, and that a supervisor engaged in gross mismanagement by approving the excessive overtime claims. The Commissioner referred the matter for investigation to the deputy minister, who found that there was no wrongdoing. The Commissioner was not satisfied with the thoroughness of the investigation and, accordingly, started investigating the matter himself. The Commissioner concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that the overtime claims were fraudulent, and thus found that the allegations of wrongdoing against the public servants had not been substantiated.
Alleged preferential treatment in hiring (Referral)
It was alleged that an agency employee breached the Conflict of Interest Rules by hiring a friend, who was also a former colleague, without a job competition. The matter was referred to a senior public servant at the agency, who investigated the allegation and found that the hiring was permissible under the Conflict of Interest Rules and the agency’s rules. Additionally, the relationship between the employee and the new hire was professional in nature, not personal, and the employee had been transparent with her manager about their work history. While no wrongdoing was found, the senior official noted that some aspects of the hiring process could be improved, including formalizing a process for declaring conflicts of interests in the hiring process. The Commissioner was satisfied with the investigation and closed the file.
Alleged improper use of government resources for self-benefit (Referral)
A discloser alleged that a ministry employee was using their position as a public servant to benefit themselves by improperly using government premises, which is a breach of the Conflict of Interest Rules. The Commissioner referred the matter to the deputy minister to investigate. The investigation substantiated the allegation and revealed that, in fact, this was an ongoing practice by several public servants in that workplace. The deputy minister directed that this practice be discontinued. The Commissioner was satisfied with the investigation and the deputy minister’s proposed course of action and closed the file.
Alleged preferential treatment of a stakeholder for self-benefit (Investigation)
A discloser alleged that a former public servant assisted in securing a grant for an organization where she subsequently became employed. This was a potential breach of the Conflict of Interest Rules and gross mismanagement in the work of the public service. The former public servant had worked in a minister’s office. The Commissioner investigated the matter and determined that no wrongdoing occurred. He noted that the former public servant had entered into employment discussions with the organization after the grant was secured. She was also not substantially involved in the process by which the grant was awarded. There was no evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement. However, the former public servant had not sought advice from the Commissioner, as her Ethics Executive, when she left the public service. The Commissioner was concerned that she had little understanding of her ethical obligations as a public servant. In his report to the appropriate government officials, the Commissioner, therefore, emphasized the importance of ensuring that staff in ministers’ offices are made aware of their ethical responsibilities.
Alleged breach of a regulation related to policy development (Investigation)
A discloser alleged that two ministry employees engaged in gross mismanagement, saying that they approved a new policy that breached a regulation. The discloser also alleged that they failed to consult as required before approving the policy. The Commissioner investigated the matter and determined that the ministry employees had not engaged in gross mismanagement. The investigation showed that the employees approved a policy that adopted a new interpretation of a regulation; however, the employees had consulted with legal and policy staff before doing so. They followed the ministry guidelines and approval process for developing policy. The Commissioner was satisfied that there was no wrongdoing and closed the file.
Alleged preferential treatment in hiring (Referral)
A discloser alleged that a ministry employee breached the Conflict of Interest Rules by giving preferential treatment in a job competition when he hired a colleague with whom he was in a romantic relationship. The deputy minister investigated the allegation and found that there was no romantic relationship and that there was no preferential treatment because a different employee was responsible for the hiring. Although the employee was not the hiring manager, the Commissioner found that the employee interfered in the job competition by pressuring the only other candidate to withdraw. The Commissioner determined that this interference did amount to preferential treatment given to the successful candidate. The Commissioner was satisfied with the steps taken by the deputy minister to address the matter and made recommendations about the importance of ensuring fairness in hiring processes.
Alleged use of employment for self-benefit (Referral)
A discloser alleged that a ministry employee breached the Conflict of Interest Rules by requiring other public servants to run personal errands and to hire a family member. The Commissioner referred the matter to the deputy minister to investigate. The investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. The Commissioner was satisfied with the investigation and closed the file.
Alleged use of employment for self-benefit and holding outside employment (Referral)
A discloser alleged that an employee breached the Conflict of Interest Rules by accepting full-time employment outside of the public service while on a leave of absence. The Commissioner referred the matter to the chief executive officer of the agency to investigate. The investigation found that the employee had been casually employed outside of the public service; however, the terms of the leave of absence did not prevent her from working in the casual position. Though the allegation was unsubstantiated, the CEO directed that a conflict of interest declaration be placed in the employee’s file. The Commissioner was satisfied with the investigation and the CEO’s proposed course of action and closed the file.
Alleged hiring of a family member by a senior public servant (Investigation)
A discloser alleged that a senior public servant at an agency hired a family member. This was a potential breach of the Conflict of Interest Rules, which prohibit hiring family members and giving preferential treatment. The Commissioner commenced an investigation. During the investigation, the Commissioner received a second disclosure of wrongdoing repeating the same allegation about the senior public servant and alleging that other public servants at the agency also gave preferential treatment to the family member. The discloser also alleged that public servants at the agency gave preferential treatment in other hiring processes, and that agency executives breached a law by using personal email accounts for agency business in an attempt to conceal records of the public institution. The Commissioner commenced an investigation into these allegations. The Commissioner received a third disclosure of wrongdoing about the agency. This disclosure contained similar and related allegations. It alleged that the senior public servant had retained a family member by way of a procurement contract. Since many of the allegations were related, the Commissioner proceeded with one investigation of the three disclosures. The investigation revealed that the senior official’s family member was hired by the agency. While the senior official was not directly involved in the hiring process, the Commissioner found that the senior official breached the Conflict of Interest Rules by failing to endeavour to avoid creating the appearance of preferential treatment when the agency hired the family member. The Commissioner did not find other instances of wrongdoing by the public servants. However, the Commissioner was concerned because 1) there were deficiencies in the agency’s record-keeping practices around hiring decisions, and 2) senior staff in the agency had used personal email accounts for agency business. In particular, the lack of clarity surrounding the hiring of the family member, especially in light of the senior public servant’s potential conflict of interest, was problematic and contributed to the perception that the senior public servant gave the family member preferential treatment. The use of personal email accounts for agency business, which concerned sensitive and personal information about employees, was also troubling, and it exposed the agency and its employees to risk. However, the Commissioner did not find that the senior staff had intended to conceal public records or remove public records from the custody or control of the agency. For the most part, the senior staff sent email chains to or from an agency email address, or forwarded the emails to an agency email address, meaning that at least most of the emails exist in the agency’s records. The Commissioner made recommendations to the agency and the Secretary of the Cabinet regarding the finding of wrongdoing and his other concerns. The agency accepted the Commissioner’s recommendations and agreed to report back to the Commissioner, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Cabinet, on the measures taken to implement the recommendations.