Whistleblowing: a chilling account

6 Jan

Robina Cosser is a guest author, and an expert on whistle blowing.

By tiganatoo via flickr

Blowing the whistle into an empty room

By Robina Cosser

So …

You become aware that something is “going on” in The Department. And you decide that you must do something about the situation. You decide that you must “blow the whistle” – you must tell somebody who will do something about the situation.

So you struggle over the wording of your disclosure for several days, or even weeks, trying to explain your disclosure as clearly as possible. And you collect lots and lots of supporting documentation.

Then you mail your disclosure and the supporting documentation to a person that you think cannot possibly be corrupt. The Director-General of The Department, maybe.

But you don’t realise that you are doing battle with the public service. And that no public servant in The Department wants to be held responsible for hearing you blow the whistle. And that The Department’s public servants have generations of experience in “not hearing”, “not understanding”, “not knowing” and “not finding any evidence of”.

And so your disclosure is “lost”. Or the supporting documents are “lost”. Or your disclosure is reduced to gibberish – the cover letter and the first page of your disclosure are saved, the next eight pages are “lost” and the remaining pages of your disclosure are sent to another office, in another city, and jumbled up with lots of other documents.

Or every alternate page of your disclosure is “lost”. Or two pages of your disclosure are recorded, two are “lost”, two are recorded, two are “lost”, etc. Or your disclosure is reduced to half-size and turned around and printed sideways on the page, so that it is very difficult to read.

And The Department do nothing about your disclosure.

So, after waiting for some time, you decide that you have to make your disclosure to another government department, one that is not corrupt. The Crime and Misconduct Commission, maybe.

So you ring the CMC. And you make your disclosure very, very clearly to the CMC officer.

And the CMC officer writes down her own gibberish version of your disclosure. And she makes a note that, having spoken with you, she has doubts about your credibility. And she puts these notes on your file.

You have a suspicion that the CMC officer was reluctant to record your disclosure. Something in her tone of voice. And so you send her an email, making your disclosure very, very clear to her. So that she cannot pretend to misunderstand.

But the CMC officer does not open your email. She simply records that you have sent her yet another pesky email. And the CMC officer “devolves” your disclosure – she sends it back to The Department, The department that you are complaining about.

And so the CMC have no record of your disclosure, just a record of their own gibberish version of your disclosure. And The Department’s investigation into your disclosure is based on the gibberish version of your disclosure.

And The Department’s investigation is not really an investigation; it is a “review”. And the rules of the “review” are that you are not allowed to speak to the reviewer. And the reviewer is not allowed to ask any questions. So you have no way of finding out that your disclosure has been reduced to gibberish.

A few days before or after the “review” begins, Freedom of Information documents are released to you by The Department. And you realise that your official records have been extensively falsified. So you email the Director-General. And you tell him that your official records have been extensively falsified.

He emails back.

Lots of times.

With lots of promises and re-assurances.

And you email the Director of Ethical Conduct. You tell him that your official records have been extensively falsified. And he emails back. Lots of times. With lots of promises and re-assurances.

Then, a few days before a copy of the review is released to you under “Freedom of Information”, the CMC and The Department each “accept” the review – the review based on the gibberish version of your disclosure and the falsified records – and they each declare your case “closed”.

So that when you write and protest that the review has been based on a gibberish version of your disclosure and on a huge mass of falsified “official records”, no public servant reads your letters. No public servant “knows”. Because your case has been declared “closed”.

And when you ask, under freedom of Information, what the Director-General and the Director of Ethical Conduct actually did in response to your emails, you are advised that there was a computer problem in The Department. And all of your emails to and from the Director-General and the Director of Human Resources over several months were “lost”. And so there is no official record of your complaint to them that your “official records” have been extensively falsified. And there is no official record of any of their promises and the re-assurances.

So you decide to phone another government department, one that is not corrupt. And you explain your disclosure again, very clearly. You notice a slight whining noise as you are speaking. When you have finished making your disclosure the Public Servant asks you if, “besides that”, anything else is bothering you. And so you struggle to give him some other examples of corruption. And you notice that the whining noise has now stopped. And later you wonder if the Public Servant could have been pausing his tape recorder while you were explaining your disclosure.

So you visit the Head Office of The Department. And you take your own tape recorder. And you place it on the table.

And the Head Office Public Servant places his own tape recorder on the table, beside yours. And, while you are speaking about a particular group of the falsified records, the Head Office Public Servant fiddles anxiously with his tape recorder. Twice. And, later, when you listen to your own recording, you notice that there is a loud straining noise on your own tape while you were explaining that a witness has told you that this particular group of “official records” are entirely falsified.

And you wonder if the Head Office Public Servant could have paused his tape recorder while you were talking about these particular “official records”.

The Department eventually appoint an “independent investigator”.

And the Head Office Public Servant whose behaviour you have complained about to the CMC is given control of the “independent investigation”. The Head Office Public Servant tells the “independent investigator” that he is only allowed to “consider” the falsified documents that you have discovered on your official records. He is not allowed to consider your evidence that these “records” are extensively falsified. Nor is he allowed to consider the many “official records” that are still being refused to you under Freedom of Information.

He is only allowed to “consider” the falsified documents.

Again.

And, one year before the CMC receive a copy of the “external investigation” report, they declare your case “closed”.

And two years before fragments of the “external investigation” report are released to you under Freedom of Information, The Department “accept” the investigation report and write to you, declaring your case “closed”.

And, when you receive fragments of the Investigation Report under Freedom of Information, you realise that your disclosure has still not been investigated. And, when you write more protest letters, no public servant reads your protest letters because your case has been declared “closed”.

Again.

So you decide that you have to send your disclosure to somebody that you think really cannot be corrupt. The State Premier, maybe.

And the Premier’s office do nothing. For months.

And so you write again. Did they receive your disclosure?

And again the Premier’s office do nothing. For months.

And so you write again.

You give more information. But you do not repeat your disclosure – because you have already “disclosed” to them twice. And this third letter triggers a response. A “Briefing Note for the Premier” is prepared by a senior public servant.

The Premier is advised that you keep on writing pesky letters. But no mention is made of the disclosure in your first two letters. And the Premier is advised not to reply to your pesky letters.

And the Premier agrees not to reply to your letters. He signs the “Briefing Note” with a big, swirly signature. And all of his senior public servants also agree not to respond to your pesky letters.

And so all of your letters to the Premier from that date onwards are simply filed by a machine, without being read.

And no public servant “knows”.

And eventually you realise that you are whistling into an empty room.

This article was first published in On Line Opinion, December 14 2010

Robina Cosser edits the  Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles and Whistleblowing Women. She is Schools Contact Person and a Vice-President of Whistleblowers Australia.


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