03/08/2012 11:29 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Mario Dion: Watchdog Says Government Manager Charged Massages As Office Supplies, Took TVs Home


OTTAWA - A federal public servant charged massages as office supplies, put in for bogus expenses, took home flat-screen TVs paid for with office funds and used a government car as a personal vehicle, all while bullying and browbeating underlings.

These are among the findings of a damning report tabled Thursday by Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion.

The case involves a western regional manager in Human Resources and Skills Development who is not otherwise identified.

Dion said lax policies allowed the manager to divert government equipment to a personal business, claim phoney expenses and cut sweetheart deals for family and friends, while terrorizing staff.

The manager also ignored rules about confidentiality and disclosed personal information about employees to other members of staff.

As well, the manager used the passwords and access codes of employees who worked in different offices to make financial entries without their knowledge or consent.

The manager, who had been in the job for nine years, left the government during Dion's 2010 investigation, although the report doesn't say whether the bureaucrat was fired or quit.

"I have determined that the breadth, severity and frequency of the manager's wrongdoing constitute gross mismanagement in the public sector," Dion said in a release.

"I strongly encourage all public sector employees to read this report and understand the importance of respecting all legislation, policies, procedures and guidelines in the course of their day-to-day work and to always conduct themselves in an ethical manner."

The department says it has tightened its procedures to keep closer track of spending and better monitor its staff. And it has recovered the TVs and other goodies the manager took home.

"I am satisfied with the chief executive's response to my recommendations and with the measures taken to date by the department," Dion said.

Civil society groups welcomed the report, the first finding of wrongdoing the integrity office has delivered since it was set up in 2007. But they questioned why the culprit was protected by anonymity.

"To me, the most striking shortcoming is the failure to sanction or even name those responsible," said David Hutton of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform. "This seems yet another case of the wrongdoers getting a soft landing.

"Without real consequences, there's nothing to deter other wrongdoers, which is the whole purpose of this agency."

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch said the manager should have been prosecuted and identified. He said there's nothing in the Privacy Act to prevent disclosure.

"The public has a clear right to know."

The mess was uncovered after frightened public servants complained to Dion's office in February 2010.

"Although staff had concerns regarding the manager's behaviour for some time, they expressed fear for their jobs if they came forward to complain to the department or participated in an investigation," the report said.

"The discloser stated that many of the staff were frightened of the manager who they described as an autocrat and a bully who threatened reprisal against employees who questioned the manager."

The employees, who lived in small communities, said they feared that repercussions from their accusations might blow back on their families.

Not even the commissioner's guarantee of secrecy could allay those fears, the report said.

"Even with the confidentiality associated with the disclosure process, many employees who participated did so with fear and ongoing trepidation."

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