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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > W, X, Y, Z > Wrongdoing


Wrongdoing in the public sector denotes a violation of the law, or a violation of generally accepted standards of ethics.

(Ben Eisen, MPP 2009)


The public services of several countries have written extensively on this topic, in an effort to clearly define wrongdoing. Kernaghan has written about these efforts, and the following notes are drawn from his work:

"The New Zealand Protected Disclosures Act 2000 (PDA) came into effect on January 1, 2001. The PDA covers both public and private sector employees. It is concerned with “serious” wrongdoing in the categories of:

an unlawful, corrupt, or irregular use of public funds or public resources; or

an act, omission, or course of conduct that constitutes a serious risk to public health or public safety or the environment or

an act, omission, or course of conduct that constitutes a serious risk to the maintenance of law, including the prevention, investigation and detection of offences and the right to a fair trial; or

an act, omission, or course of conduct that constitutes an offence; or

an act, omission, or course of conduct by a public official that is oppressive, improperly discriminatory, or grossly negligent, or that constitutes gross mismanagement.

Compared with New Zealand's Code, the UK Civil Service Code deals much more substantively with the disclosure of wrongdoing. Indeed, the disclosure provisions in the UK Code are an integral part of the disclosure regime. The other main mechanism is the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) that came into effect in July 1999. The PIDA covers not only all public sector employees (except in such areas as security services), but private sector employees as well.

The categories of wrongdoing that “qualify” for protection are similar to those in the New Zealand PDA, namely:

a criminal offence;

a failure to comply with a legal obligation;

a miscarriage of justice;

the endangering of the health or safety of an individual;

damage to the environment; and

deliberate concealment of information that could disclose the existence of any of these types of wrongdoing.

In addition, the Civil Service Code states that employees should report any instances in which they are required to act in a manner that:

is illegal, improper, or unethical;

is in breach of constitutional convention or a professional code; may involve possible maladministration; or

is otherwise inconsistent with the Code."


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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance