Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cogito, Ergo, Rant

I think, therefore I rant - or more to the point, ask for an opinion and ye shall receive.

Such is what the Gomery Inquiry has recently done:

I went to the Gomery Commission's website and found the "survey" page:

http://www.gomery.ca/en/invitationforpublicinput/consultationpaper.asp

Here are my comments:

1. Should government advertising and sponsorship programs be insulated from
political influence?

The practical realities of this are that government is political in the first place. To assert any program is "free of political influence" is inherently false.

However, in terms similar to the "terms of engagement" for a commission of inquiry, it seems to me that a mandate that is clear in its scope and is publicly available in its entirety is a reasonable thing to expect.

2. What protections should be afforded to public servants who believe they have
witnessed impropriety in the management of government programs
("whistleblowers")?

Protecting "whistleblowers" is a dodgy game. One must balance the need for public accountability with the realities of office politics and opportunism.

The bureaucracy needs an internal equivalent of the Ethics Commissioner to perform initial investigations of these allegations to ensure that they are legitimate, and escalate the real whistleblower cases to the appropriate ministers.

3. Ministerial responsibility requires that a minister be accountable to the House
of Commons for the exercise of power. Should there be exceptions to the
concept of full ministerial responsibility for all the actions of a department?

Ministers are ultimately responsible for their departments to the public. The "I didn't know" excuse is not acceptable. If a minister "did not know", then the senior bureaucrats who should have been apprising the minister of their department's activities should be fired immediately.
The minister should not only be accountable, but should have the authority to take corrective action when necessary.

4. Accountability is the requirement to explain and accept responsibility for
carrying out an assigned mandate in light of agreed upon expectations. What
would you do to promote greater accountability for the management and use of
public funds?

1. Criminal penalties for fraud can, and should be applied as vigorously in the public sector as they are in the private sector.
2. Construct compensation schemes so that those responsible for public monies are paid well enough that "lifting" a few million won't seem as tempting.

(Carrot, and Stick)


5. Should the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service be linked to specific
responsibility and accountability processes to safeguard against
wrongdoing?

I suspect that appropriate mechanisms already exist in our securities laws that could be adapted to this type of problem.

6. Is there anything else you would suggest to Justice Gomery in pursuing his
mandate?

It seems logical (to me at least) that the rules of engagement in the senior levels of the bureaucracy should be such that nobody is able to occupy a single senior post for more than five years. A regular reorganization of the bureaucracy is likely to be a good component of ensuring that the bureaucracy and its political masters are unable to become "too cozy" on any regular basis. An overly "comfortable" bureaucracy is likely part of the reason for the events that resulted in the Gomery Inquiry in the first place.

I must admit to being impressed with Justice Gomery in how he has conducted himself over the course of this most public of inquiries. To have the temerity to ask for public thoughts in a relatively open manner is both impressive and encouraging. Perhaps, just maybe, Gomery's report will contain some useful and insightful content. Whether the politicians and bureaucrats do anything constructive with it remains to be seen.

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