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Fraud line's number kept under wraps

Few at city hall even know it exists

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2014 (2075 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What happens if you create a snitch hotline but don't give out the number? Ask Winnipeg city hall.

The city has been operating a public fraud and waste hotline since July 2013, but the phone number is not publicly available and appears to be known to only a handful of senior civic employees.

The hotline was approved by council in March 2013 to help root out and prevent corruption and abuses within the public service, providing employees and members of the public with a means to report suspected wrongdoing with confidentiality assured and guarantees of no retaliation for employees.

But the hotline number is not posted in civic departments.

It's not posted on the City of Winnipeg website.

Civic employees approached for the number said they were vaguely aware of its existence but didn't know it.

A call to 311 asking for the number was unsuccessful.

The 311 operator told the Free Press he didn't know the city had a fraud and waste hotline number, he wasn't told of it when he was hired, it wasn't posted in his office and he couldn't find it anywhere on the city's database.

"I'm checking our internal (311) documents," Dave the 311 operator said. "No, we don't have anything listed about (the fraud and waste hotline) in our internal documents either. There's nothing about a fraud and waste hotline currently. I don't know if that hotline still exists or not."

Dave the 311 Operator was thorough and asked the Free Press to hold while he consulted his supervisor. After a four-minute wait, Dave was apologetic but, again, unsuccessful.

"I spoke with my supervisor and no, unfortunately we don't have a number for the fraud and waste hotline," Dave said.

A hotline number and a poster promoting the hotline were provided to the Free Press by the city’s corporate communications office after a three-hour wait, provided to them by the city auditor’s office, which is responsible for investigating hotline complaints.

Apparently not known to corporate communications or the auditor’s office, there are actually two hotline numbers – one for civic employees; and a separate number for the public.

For the record, the numbers are:

Civic staff: 1-877-319-5186

Public complaints: 1-866-840-5837

Not surprisingly, an administrative report said there were only 16 complaints made to the hotline in 2013 -- the report doesn't say if the complaints were from employees or the public.

The auditors' office, which called for the creation of the public hotline in a 2010 report, found other municipalities which operate a public hotline have been getting far greater complaints. In 2009, Toronto had 677 reports; Calgary, 52; Edmonton, 44; and Ottawa, 165.

"If that isn't a culture of secrecy, I don't know what is," said mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Wasylycia-Leis was the first mayoral candidate promising a comprehensive public accountability package, including the passage of whistleblower legislation to protect civic workers from retaliation for reporting abuses -- but unknown to just about everybody, the city already offers its employees that protection, which was approved by council in May 2011.

Wasylycia-Leis said a real accountability and whistleblower program needs to be publicized and promoted -- within the work force and the greater community.

The allegations of wrongdoing around the fire hall replacement program and the police headquarters project could have been avoided, she said, had city hall genuinely supported its hotline initiative.

"I've talked to a number of civic employees who've left city hall who felt they had no ability to register their concerns without having it impact on their jobs," she said. "Rather than speak up, they left. Those who are left are just keeping their heads down because there is no appropriate way to register their concerns without penalty."

Even though council approved the public hotline 18 months ago, it's not posted on the city's website.

"We are currently finalizing the web pages for the city's Internet website," Bryan Mansky, the city's deputy auditor said in an email. He said information about the hotline will be provided to the 311 system shortly as well.

In an administrative report to the executive policy committee, the city auditor's office said of the 16 complaints made to the hotline in 2013, 14 were referred to a department for investigation and are now considered closed; one report was investigated by the auditor's office and is also closed; no action was taken on one report.

The auditor's report found only four of the complaints were substantiated and resulted in changes to management practices.

The report doesn't state if any employees were disciplined because of a complaint to the hotline.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Will you call the snitch line now that you know one exists? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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History

Updated on Friday, September 19, 2014 at 6:29 AM CDT: Adds question for discussion

10:20 AM: Updates with numbers for civic staff, public complaints

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