Ombudsman calls for protection for federal whistle-blowers
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Ombudsman calls for protection for federal whistle-blowers

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The federal institutions need to offer better protection to staff who report irregularities, so as to prevent fraud, according to the federal ombudsman.

This week is International Fraud Awareness Week, Organised by the association of Certified Fraud examiners, the world’s largest organisation of professional fraud-fighters.

Among its 85,000 members is the Integrity centre of the ombudsman’s service, which is using the occasion to call for the government to work out a fully-developed integrity policy to set out clear rules on what is allowed and what is not.

One of the most valuable tools in fighting fraud within the government services or among those who come into contact with them, is the reports coming from government officials and civil servants themselves. As a result those whistle-blowers need to be sure of protection against repercussions if they make their observations known to outsiders.

At present, protection is offered to anyone who makes a report to the Integrity Centre, dating from the moment they make a report until three years after the publication of an internal report, or a judicial verdict.

If any change is made to conditions of employment which may be a result of the report of a complaint, the Centre will investigate and if necessary take disciplinary action against the person responsible.

That protection is not automatic, however, if the complaint is made to a senior official or part of the Integrity Centre. And it is not available at all if the complaint is found to be malicious or if he person complaining was personally involved.

The Centre has been investigating fraud claims for six years now, and one of its observations is that federal employees are often not aware of the fraud complaints they may be leaving themselves over, nor of the possible acts of fraud that may be carried out by others.

That lack of information works against the effective reporting of fraud, the ombudsman said. The solution lies in the government working out a detailed rule-book covering the meaning of fraud, examples of fraudulent practice, and the avenues open to anyone who believes fraud may have taken place.

In order to combat fraud effectively, more attention must be paid to prevention,” the service said.

In its ‘Memorandum 2020,’ the Federal Ombudsman asked the government to further develop its integrity policy within the federal public services. The service also submitted the memorandum to the new minister for the civil service – Petra De Sutter (Groen) when she took office.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times