Staff who spoke out vindicated
Whistleblowers who flagged fraudulent activity by former Ministry of Transport boss Joanne Harrison should be offered compensation, according to a State Services Commission report.
Harrison, 50, was jailed for three years and seven months in February after the Serious Fraud Office discovered she had stolen $726,386 taxpayer dollars over more than three years to pay off credit cards and her mortgage.
Staff who alerted ministry bosses to Harrison’s behaviour and conduct were made redundant, and while the report says that was not directly related to Harrison getting rid of them, what followed was alarming, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said yesterday.
‘‘While there is no definitive evidence that Joanne Harrison engineered the process to exit these staff, the convergence of events that took place and her involvement in providing advice gives me cause for concern.’’
The staff were made redundant as part of a restructure just before Christmas, and seven months earlier than they needed to be, the report found. The timing of their redundancies was based on advice from Harrison.
‘‘These public servants should never have been disadvantaged because they did the right thing,’’ Hughes said.
‘‘It is vital that public servants can raise concerns about suspected wrong-doing safely and without fear of punishment or reprisal.’’
Hughes described Harrison as a ‘‘highly manipulative’’ individual who ‘‘wreaked havoc’’ within the ministry.
His organisation was working on ways of modernising how whistleblowers could alert authorities, through the Protected Disclosures Act, he said.
The investigation was handled by former deputy State Services Commissioner Sandi Beatie, who recommended the former staff members receive an apology and that the State Services Commission should offer compensation.
Hughes said the three employees made redundant would get redress, which would make up for the salary they lost, as well as compensation for the hurt and humiliation they suffered.
‘‘I have met with these former staff members and their families,’’ he said. ‘‘I thanked them for their public service and apologised to them for the treatment they received after raising genuine and well-founded concerns. I repeat that apology publicly.’’
It was clear they were ‘‘salt of the earth, loyal public servants’’.
‘‘What they did took great courage, and I’m satisfied that we’ve done the right thing as far as we can . . . to put things right,’’ he said.
Harrison, also known as Joanne Sharp, joined the Transport Ministry in 2011 and was appointed general manager of organisational development in July 2013.
Her crimes came to light in July 2016 after the Serious Fraud Office investigated dubious contracts she was involved in.