The Standards in Public Office Commission’s 8th annual report is out today. More hugely important, considered and implementable recommendations which will almost certainly be ignored, again.
I’m averse to publishing press releases in full but in this case I think there’s merit in seeing it straight from the horses mouth…
PRESS RELEASE – 20 July 2010
STANDARDS IN PUBLIC OFFICE COMMISSION ANNUAL REPORT 2009
In its 8th annual report, the Standards Commission recommends that liabilities should be declared by public representatives and public servants in their annual statements of interests. The Ethics Acts at present provide for annual disclosure of ‘registrable interests’, but this does not include liabilities. The Standards Commission believes that a public representative or public servant who has significant liabilities to, for example, a financial institution, could be materially influenced in the course of performing their duties where such duties involve dealing with that financial institution and where the actions of the public servant could conceivably affect their own interests. The Commission maintains that it is in the public interest that such liabilities be appropriately disclosed. Accordingly, the Standards Commission recommends that the ethics legislation be amended to provide that a liability above a certain threshold be regarded as a registrable interest (pages 29 and 30).
“A major factor in the low level of complaints received by the Standards Commission is fear on the part of potential whistleblowers of the consequences of reporting wrongdoing ” says Mr Justice M. P. Smith, Chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission, in the eighth annual report of the Standards Commission published today. (Pages 17 to 19)
The Standards Commission says that the piecemeal approach to introducing protection for whistleblowers may have created confusion as to whether protection is available or indeed whether there is a real commitment to encouraging whistleblowers to come forward. There is a strong public interest in ensuring that persons who are aware of wrongdoing are encouraged to report it to the appropriate authorities.
The Commission welcomes a Transparency International study of whistleblower protection in ten European countries, published in January 2010, which found that the Irish approach is deeply flawed. It endorses the report’s recommendation that a comprehensive public interest disclosure and whistleblower protection law be introduced as a matter of urgency, saying that “as well as the specific protections which would be afforded, such a step would send out a clear signal that wrongdoing is not to be tolerated and that reporting in good faith of wrongdoing is to be strongly encouraged.”
Statement of Ethical Principles
The Standards Commission has also proposed that a clear high level statement of the ethical principles to be followed by public servants and public representatives should be adopted, either in primary legislation or in each of the relevant statutory codes of conduct. It considers that the UK Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Seven Principles of Public Life might provide a good starting point for discussion as to the fundamental principles that each public servant or public representative should know they must follow. The ultimately agreed principles should be incorporated into the Ethics Acts as public service values. Failure to abide by these principles could be cited in any complaint under the relevant ethics legislation (page 23).
Political Party Funding
The Standards Commission also supervised compliance with the Electoral Acts by TDs, Senators & MEPs, by political parties and their accounting units and by “third parties” and the report shows that over €13.6 million was paid to political parties out of Exchequer funds in 2009. The Standards Commission repeats its call for increased transparency in political party funding in order to strengthen public trust in parties and minimise corruption risks. (pages 32 to 41).
Recommendations for Change
Once again this year, the Standards Commission summarises its recommendations for change to the Ethics, Electoral and Party Leaders Allowance legislation in Appendix 4 of the report (pages 49 to 51).
You can read the report here.