Morality in the time of Coronavirus

Imagine yourself in the following scenario:

You are working as a relatively well-paid consultant, on a precarious day rate contract. Your client is a large government agency. You’ve been hired to bring commercial acumen to a project that, by any reasonable measure, has been an abject failure (a year overdue on an 18 month timeline, tens of millions in overspend).

The supplier has a global track record of sharp practice and, a few years ago, was found guilty of bribing public officials.

In your work, you find two major errors or omissions in the supplier’s work and recommend these are used as commercial leverage to improve the outcomes for the taxpayer.

A peer actively works against this advice and commences a campaign of attacking you personally.

In your experience, this behaviour is highly suspicious. The best explanation is incompetence and commercial naivety, but there is also a not insignificant chance of corruption.

A cursory background search of the individual reveals almost a decade working at an organisation that was shut down due to deep and systemic corruption. The individual also has an active Ltd company, despite being a salaried public servant, with a contractual restriction against “moonlighting”.

What do you do?

Bill’s Opinion

At any other time of my career, I would be gunning for this person using the auditors and whistleblower legislation.

In this time of COVID19 shutdowns and imminent recession, I’m less keen to put my family’s financial well-being at risk however.

Any suggestions on how I can manage my way through this without utterly compromising my personal values?

12 Replies to “Morality in the time of Coronavirus”

  1. Get someone else to do the dobbing. Maybe even someone offshore.

    1. Additional information; it looks like I’m the only person to have spotted this and it’ll be immediately apparent who did the dobbing.
      The evidence is only circumstantial at the moment.

  2. I had a friend who when hit up for 300k by a planning officer said “what is he thinking, the ATO can’t get that sort of money out of me”. So his first call was to, the ATO. Another call might be equally anonymously from a public phone booth to the ASIC if his LTD company is illegal for him. Just think your way through government for those who might make life awkward without your name coming to mind. This is why the ATO is so good, if he is declaring income above and beyond then the source might draw some inquiry, and if he is not, then he is in the gun for undeclared income. Then there are the money laundering laws.

  3. Bill,

    Good on you for giving a shit. There are too many dishonest or indifferent people who would look the other way.

    It’s fair enough that you’re looking out for your family first and proceeding with caution. You should continue to do that. In case it ever comes back to bite you in the bum the other way, i.e. someone asking how you could have missed it, make sure you document every step. In the end, you might have to report him for his private company just to cover yourself.

    Probably you won’t get very expert advice from blog comments. The Ethics Centre, formerly St James Ethics Centre, previously offered legal advice to people in just your situation. I’m not sure if they still do that sort of thing, but I found this helpline:

    It looks more philosophical than legal, but perhaps they could refer you to someone. You’re in Australia, right?

    In dealing with the crook, keep your cards close to your chest. Don’t let him know that you’re suspicious, conflicted, angry, nor pretend to be anything else. Remain unreadable, and don’t say a single word more than you have to. If he can’t guess what you know or think, he will be off-balance and have trouble deciding how to act.

    Whatever happens, we all ought to have enough cash saved to cover living expenses for a year or so. An emergency fund, or f- you money if you like, makes it easier for us to do the right thing.

    Good luck. I hope it works out one way or another.

    1. “Whatever happens, we all ought to have enough cash saved to cover living expenses for a year or so”.

      Yep, that’s the golden rule for contracting. I’d rather keep it that way this year too!

      I’m just rolling over and saying yes at the moment. Keeping an audit trail too.

      I’m thinking about emailing my own email account a list of concerns so they are on the record for later.

  4. You don’t say how much control over your contract he has, but if I read it right as a permanent employee he will have so so your position could be in jeopardy anyway.

    As said above, I’d make sure it was clearly documented and then, considering how well the whistle blowing system works there give them a copy. However, from what I understand about whistle blowing it rarely ends well for the whistle blower.

    Is there anyone in a senior position you can trust? From my experience consulting internationally I usually had at least one ally in a senior in an organisation, usually, but not always, an ex-pat. Alternatively, there must be someone who would get a career boost if this was exposed so use their self interest?

    I was once told by an accounts clerk who did our expenses that I was the most honest person she’d come across, and I’m not sure what I would have done. It’s easy in hindsight but I suspect when I had a large mortgage and young family I would have been very tempted to keep my mouth shut and watch my back and probably hate myself for it. Later in my career when I was financially sound I like to think I would have blown him and taken great delight in doing it.

    It’s a really tough call and you have my sympathy.

    1. “However, from what I understand about whistle blowing it rarely ends well for the whistle blower. “

      It seems to be two years of hell with a slim chance of being vindicated *if* the investigation is competent.

      “Is there anyone in a senior position you can trust?”.
      I’m in week 6 of the contract. I’ve got no network in the organisation.

  5. Anonymous phone call to your fave SMH journo, with the usual capitalist fat cats jargon thrown in. The left are pretty good at crucifying and martyring and they generally get their man.

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