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Annual reports

From Whistleblowing to participatory auditing

In 2008, federal employees were not legally required to report the felonies they encountered to the courts. The experts of GRECO, a Council of Europe anti-corruption body, pointed out this shortcoming at that time in their evaluation report on Switzerland.

To remedy this shortcoming, the Federal Office of Justice, in close cooperation with the Federal Office of Personnel and the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO), introduced on 1 January 2011 the new Article 22a of the Federal Personnel Act and the obligation to report felonies and misdemeanours prosecuted ex officio. This is when whistleblowing was launched at the federal administrative level. This article actually introduced the reporting right for other irregularities observed by a federal employee. Two important features: whistleblowers acting in good faith are legally protected against any professional disadvantage and the report must be made to the SFAO.

Unfortunately, the disadvantage of enshrining this provision in the Federal Personnel Act is that it does not apply to persons employed under the Swiss Code of Obligations, e.g. those at RUAG, Swiss Post or some SBB staff. The SFAO welcomes reports and treats them confidentially in all these cases, but it cannot ensure that whistleblowers acting in good faith are legally protected against unfair dismissal.

We have seen a steady increase in the number of reports since 2011, especially since the introduction of our IT platform www.whistleblowing.admin.ch. It is now the IT system that ensures the anonymous processing of reports. These reports come from federal employees, but also from third parties who have witnessed irregularities.

For the SFAO, processing this information is not simple. It is necessary to sift through the information and critically verify onsite whether it is plausible. Some reports may actually be intended to harm someone. It is then necessary to identify the appropriate time to initiate possible criminal proceedings and avoid obstructing them by alerting the perpetrators of an offence. In any case, nothing that could put the whistleblower in danger should be done. Finally, information that may later prove to be important should not be neglected.

Far from constituting the establishment of a "police state" as feared by some, this system allows the population to participate actively in the supervision of its administration. It also provides the opportunity to verify and perhaps refute certain accusations.

Some specific examples? Following several reports, the SFAO examined the financial management of the SBB transport police. The good news for them is that we did not have another PostAuto affair. The accounting errors were not of the same magnitude and the cost transfer was in favour of the subsidised sectors of the SBB rather than against them. Another example concerns RUAG’s margins. Following a whistleblower’s accusations reported in the press, RUAG asked the SFAO to audit its accounts. The aim of the audit was to clarify definitively this issue of the profitability of RUAG’s sales to the Confederation.

In the SFAO’s opinion, this development has not yet been completed. In 2013, the audit offices of various countries adopted a new standard that deals with their relations with the public. It has been found that establishing dialogue between the audit institution and the public has a positive impact on trust in public administrations.

In typical Swiss fashion, we want to develop this dialogue by giving the public the opportunity to make a contribution or participate in our work. We believe that we are here to ensure that all taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently and to avoid waste. The area we have to supervise is massive. If you have any questions that you feel are important, or if you have any doubts about the management of a subsidy or project, please contact us (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). We will incorporate this information into our considerations and assess the appropriateness of conducting an audit in that area.

We would like to thank everyone who supports us in our work.

Press release

Annual report 2018

Information:

Michel Huissoud, Director of the SFAO, tel. 058 463 11 11

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