In December 2022, the House for Whistleblowers published a report on an investigation into wrongdoing at a government agency. The House concluded that public money was handled in a careless and unlawful manner and this lead to wrongdoing that affected the public interest.
For this article, we will mainly follow the summary of the report by the House.
The investigation concerns the severance scheme offered by a government agency, which employees received if they left voluntarily. A condition for this was the employee’s reinstatement or elimination of a formation post. The agency applied the severance scheme in 2014 and 2015 following a merger in 2012, which called for internal changes in working practices and culture.
In 2018, an employee reported internally a suspicion of incorrect application of the severance scheme. The agency had created an option in its severance policy to apply the severance scheme, while it was not clear whether the conditions of the scheme could be met. This was risky: eventually, it turned out that the agency could not claim the budget available for this purpose from the ministry because of it. The agency therefore had to finance the severance scheme itself. As a result, the severance policy costed the government agency €11 million more than anticipated.
The ministry under which the agency falls commissioned an investigation following the internal notification. It concluded, based on the investigation, that there was no wrongdoing. The reporter then submitted his suspicion of wrongdoing to the House for Whistleblowers (the House). The House came to a different conclusion.
The House examined whether the application of the departure policy led to a violation of legal requirements and whether the public interest was at stake.
The House regards the agency’s application of the severance policy as a violation of a legal requirement. Indeed, the House concluded that the application was not in line with the purpose and spirit of the regulation. In addition, the House considers the inadequate recording of the decision-making on the implementation of the policy a serious issue. The House believes that public money was not handled in a careful and lawful manner, whereas this is what should be expected of a public organisation supervising compliance. The costs of the departure policy were significantly higher than anticipated for the agency because of this conduct. Moreover, the House considers it plausible that this, combined with the departing staff that could not be replaced, had an impact on the performance of the agency’s tasks.
All of these circumstances, according to the House, led to the agency’s wrongdoing that affected the public interest. In its report, the House asks the responsible ministry to still reflect with the agency on the departure policy pursued at the time and draw lessons for the future.
If we have been counting correctly, this is only the second investigation report into wrongdoing since the House was established in 2016. All other investigative reports have been on investigations on the treatment of whistleblowers. This is not to say that the House has only received or dealt with two requests relating to wrongdoing. If there is another authority or inspection that could conduct the investigation, such as the Public Prosecution Service, the House usually lets this other body investigate the matter, after consultation with and consent from the reporter.
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