Central point of contact to report wrong doings at the Flemish government authorities
The central point of contact is one of the pillar stones of the whistleblower system that is in place at the Flemish government authorities and it is open to both members of staff and to the public (citizens and businesses, everyone who has a concern regarding the Flemish government authorities).
Under Belgian penal law all civil servants have the duty to report cases of wrong doing which they encounter while performing their tasks and duties as civil servants. The duty to speak up is also laid down in the staff regulations (Dutch) of the Flemish government authorities. The staff regulations also ensure that members of staff who become whistleblowers can get special protection under the Whistleblower protection decree, ratified by the Flemish government in 2004 and renewed in 2014. This whistleblower protection procedure is also laid down in the Ombudsman decree (Dutch) which originally dates from 1998 and which has been recently renewed in 2014.
The former competent minister for Public Governance, announced in the policy document 2009-2014 the establishment of a unique contact point for reports on integrity issues, for both members of staff and members of the public. This contact point would enable a uniform, consistent and professional way of receiving, registering and investigating such reports.
Although many steps had previously been taken to establish and improve the whistleblower system and procedure for the Flemish government authorities, this was the first time that a point of contact with a focus on integrity issues was developed. As the Flemish government authorities have a multidisciplinary approach to integrity, the integrity officer together with key partners in the (virtual) integrity office decided to develop a central contact point for both issues of integrity and well-being at work (Spreekbuis) for staff members.
The specific point of contact for staff members is called ‘Spreekbuis’ (Dutch), which translates as ‘mouthpiece’. Members of staff can turn to different channels and authorized contact persons to report cases of wrong doing, such as to their superior, Audit Vlaanderen (the internal audit division of the Flemish government authorities) and Spreekbuis.
Spreekbuis is staffed with trained professionals and specialists within the department of prevention and protection of the Flemish Government, who know how to deal with highly emotional calls and messages they receive. Experience with reports on well-being and integrity, showed that members of staff often raise concerns when they are confronted with the personal effects of wrong doings. When they suffer because of conflicts or bullying or when they feel they are being treated unfairly, they decide to speak up. Their stories reveal that well-being issues often go hand in hand with integrity issues. For this reason it makes sense to receive these reports via a single point of contact. It proves successful for staff members, who know there is a single point of contact they can turn to and therefore they do not have to turn to different channels or contact persons to address the issues; as well as for the competent divisions and people who investigate and deal with the cases, as they can join forces and deal with the cases from a multidisciplinary point of view.
- One central point of contact for staff members for all types of concerns at work, concerning integrity, well-being as well as issues concerning the private life of members of staff, which may have an impact on their work.
- A gateway to other authorized channels to report wrong doings. Making Spreekbuis the go-to resource when staff members want to raise concerns regarding issues of well-being and integrity at work.
- More and improved communications and awareness raising, which boost the number of contacts (email and telephone).
The specific point of contact for members of the public regarding the Flemish government, is 1700. The call centre at 1700 received specialized training to receive, register and transfer concerns or complaints regarding integrity issues to the authorized actors.
As there was no allocated budget for the development of the central point of contact for reports of integrity issues, it was decided to make use of existing services and bring together the expertise and specialized know-how of relevant key players. For this reason both Spreekbuis and 1700, were engaged to offer a new service to receive, register and pass on reports of integrity concerns.
This approach has a number of important benefits:
- The existing channels were already known to the respective target groups: staff members were familiar with Spreekbuis as a channel for well-being at work and 1700 as the gateway to all Flemish government services for the general public. No expensive communications campaign was needed to introduce the channels to the target groups.
- Both channels had a solid expertise and professionalism for working with the specific target groups and were well trained in working with the respective target groups.
- The channels were very knowledgeable in the services and workings of the Flemish government authorities.
- Working with existing channels and thereby eliminating the need for extra budgets or extra staff to set up the services.
The minister and his cabinet assigned the Integrity Officer to develop and implement the central point of contact for integrity issues. The integrity officer worked together with the key players from all relevant domains of expertise to make the channel a multidisciplinary channel, in keeping with the multidisciplinary integrity approach of the Flemish government authorities. The key players of the relevant domains of expertise included Internal Audit, Well-being at work, Social Services, Diversity & Equal opportunities, Training and Support , and are all gathered in the (virtual) integrity office (Dutch). Senior representatives of these key actors were actively involved in the design and development of the channel. Colleagues with special expertise in gathering and analyzing big data were involved to set up the design including the development of clear and workable process flows, as well as technically skilled colleagues who advised on matters of security.
For setting up the channel of reporting integrity issues for members of the public, there was close collaboration with colleagues of 1700. A special training for the employees in the call center was set up and the process flow was designed similarly to that of Spreekbuis. Both channels delivered monthly reports on the number of disclosures and an overview of the categories and types of disclosures reported.
As the channels receive sensitive information including personal details, an extensive file was compiled to ask permission from the privacy commission.
When the new Spreekbuis was launched in 2013 as the central point of contact for well-being and integrity at work, its scope extended to all staff members of the Flemish government authorities, which covered about 25.000 employees. The new and improved services of Spreekbuis were promoted with a communications campaign that included posters in all buildings of the Flemish government authorities, postcards and calling cards that were distributed amongst employees and key actors in the entities, articles on the internal website and in the staff magazine. In addition a webpage (Dutch) was created and presented at several network events and forums.
In 2014 Spreekbuis was offered to all entities of the ‘Flemish government services’ (a specific scope within the Flemish government authorities) and all entities that contributed financially to make use of the services of Spreekbuis. This scope includes a total of 47 entities and approximately 18.000 employees.
The scope of 1700, includes citizens, entrepreneurs or organizations looking for information on the services of the Flemish government authorities. In 2014, 1700 received 1,042,708 calls, emails and chat messages.
There were several risks which could have jeopardized the project. The following risks were taken into account from the start of the project:
- not being able to respect the foreseen deadline for the project
- insufficient means (budget and resources) to realize the entire project
- not reaching the desired scope: making Spreekbuis the channel to report internal wrong doings for the entities of the Flemish government authorities and offering it to as many employees as possible
- not reaching a mutual scope for all the central key integrity actors who are competent as back office to investigate and deal with the cases received via Spreekbuis and 1700
- not reaching an agreement on the partnership with Vlaamse Infolijn to take on the front office services of 1700 for the reports of the general public or not being able to install the necessary expertise for 1700 to deal with reports on integrity issues
The risks listed above were foreseen thanks to a risk analysis that was made as part of the preliminary preparations for managing the project. All steps and preparatory documents were made as part of good project management, which ensured an efficient progress of the different subproject and the project as a whole.
- To respect the foreseen deadline for the project a detailed project planning was made, including an estimate of man-days needed to complete the project on time. A strict follow-up of the projects’ progress helped to reach the foreseen deadlines of both the subprojects and the overall project and the determined goals and results.
- As there were no additional budgets for financing the project, it was funded within the existing funds of the department of Public Governance. To guarantee the services and quality in the long run, a system of mutual funding is a valid option. It means that each entity that makes use of the services contributes in a fair measure to the costs of Spreekbuis. In addition no extra people were hired or attributed to the project. It was realized by a very limited number of people who made up the project management team and who, in addition to working on this demanding project, also had several other duties and tasks to perform. The limited manpower continued to be a known risk throughout the whole duration of the project.
- In order to reach the desired scope and to offer the services of Spreekbuis to as many employees as possible, the department of Public Governance financed the project and offered the services of Spreekbuis for free to all entities of the Flemish government authorities. This gave the entities an excellent opportunity to get to know the services and it opened the door to promote Spreekbuis in all the entities and include them in the communications campaign.
- All central key players who work together in the (virtual) integrity office have their own specific scope. No common scope has been established yet. To overcome this obstacle and to guarantee a professional handling of cases, detailed process flows and scripts have been drawn up and are being used by both the front offices of Spreekbuis and 1700 and the back office actors to correctly transfer cases to the appropriate and competent division or contact person.
- The close collaboration with Vlaamse Infolijn to engage 1700 as front office for reports on integrity and well-being by the general public was laid down in a collaboration agreement. The people in the front office were trained in house to recognize integrity issues and to know how to deal with them and to what competent divisions they have to dispatch them. Clear-cut scripts and workflow charts were made to guide them. Moreover there was a trial period of a couple of months before the actual services were offered to the public. Together with the monthly reports and close follow-up of the reports and their dispatching a fast learning curve was obtained.