(CNS): Public Accounts Committee Chair Ezzard Miller and the auditor general have both said that the amount paid to senior civil servants who are let go from government should be made public because the people are ultimately footing the bill. With unsubstantiated claims from numerous sources that the former chief immigration officer was given more than $2 million in the latest closed-door government payoff, Miller said that these amounts must be disclosed.
Auditor General Sue Winspear pointed out that the payoffs should appear in the relevant public authority’s annual accounts but that the money paid to any departing senior civil servant should be published. She said that even if the details of an agreement and the circumstances surrounding someone’s departure are part of a non-disclosure agreement, the public has a right to know how much has been paid out.
She told CNS that there still needs to be more transparency around government finances, as she noted the damaging effect that secrecy has, undermining the trust of both the Legislative Assembly, which is supposed to have final oversight on government money, and the people, who pay the money into the government coffers in the first place.
Winspear said that often in such case public money is being spent because of some kind of mismanagement, and while large payments may have to be made to comply with the employment law, those amounts should be disclosed. “Ultimately, something has gone awry and the public needs to know,” she said.
Miller, who is the opposition leader as well as PAC chair, also said that these deals should be public. “The government has to stop making settlements with negligent personnel with public money behind closed doors,” he told CNS.
Over the last decade government has paid out tens of millions of dollars in payments to senior staff for a long list of reasons, from the multi-million dollar payoffs to a high court judge and senior police officers caught up in the controversial Operation Tempura investigation to the recent payoff to former chief immigration officer Linda Evans, who was on paid leave for almost three years before the deal for what is believed to be one of the highest payments ever made to a departing civil servant was made.
Evans was originally accused of wrongdoing but no official details have ever been made public about the accusations made against her, though it is widely understood that it related to an alleged misuse of her discretionary powers to grant residency.
With dozens of civil servants further down the pecking order on required leave for one reason or another, those facing criminal allegations will either be fired if convicted or returned to work if their names are cleared. But where a high-profile member of staff is either wrongly accused of something or has allegations hanging over them that cannot be proved, their return to work after years of enforced absence can be challenging.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson recently said he had plans to deal with the situation of civil servants on required leave or suspension on full pay for long periods while misconduct, corruption or criminal charges are dealt with.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly during the budget debate in November, he said that over the last year the number of public servants on required leave while receiving full pay has fallen from 26 to 16 — eleven people were fired and 14 were back on the job — but that in future the time that civil servants spend at home being paid by the public purse would be limited.
However, Manderson has not said anything about lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the settlements.