It’s “common and appropriate” for aid officials to work on government-funded projects after they retire from public office – as long as conflict-of-interest and post-employment policies are being followed, a spokesperson for the Canadian aid agency told Devex in response to a question on a newly ignited controversy over a former CIDA official who resigned in disgrace several years ago.
Devex made the inquiry after Canada’s public integrity commissioner suggested to parliament that a former director general of the Canadian International Development Agency had “misused public funds” while in office by conducting private business using public equipment and staff.
While the government watchdog – as well as CIDA – would not disclose the official’s name, subsequent news report alleged it was Naresh Singh, who was CIDA’s acting vice president for partnership before joining the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as director in charge of overseeing Caribbean Local Economic Development, a CIDA-funded project in the Caribbean.
He resigned from his post as CARILED director on Feb. 11, the same day journalists allegedly tried to reach him for interview on his actions while at CIDA. News reports suggested FCM was not aware of the investigation when it appointed Singh.
In a statement issued last weekend, Singh acknowledged mistakes while at CIDA but called recent media reports ”misleading and incorrect.” Those alleging conflict of interest while at FCM were “mystifying,” he said; those alleging he left CARILED because of critical media reports were “totally untrue.”
Singh has since been appointed deputy secretary general of Caricom, the 15-nation Caribbean community. He had served as an executive director of its Caribbean Environmental Health Institute from 1990 to 1993.
On Feb. 14, nine days after the commissioner’s report was posted on a government website, Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino said he was alarmed “that a former Canadian International Development Agency employee may have been in a conflict of interest.”
Fantino said he would refer the matter to the public sector integrity commissioner for review.
Fantino said CIDA is taking precautionary measure as the integrity commissioner is reviewing the aid-funded project allegedly run by this former CIA official: “Until further notice, future payments for this particular project will be withheld.”
In response to Devex’s inquiry, CIDA refused to name the former official implicated in the commissioner report and similarly declined to disclose the identity of the “former CIDA employee” who was named by Fantino.
“We cannot disclose this information as it is protected under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act,” Amy Mills, CIDA’s media relations officer, told Devex in a written reply.
“It is common and appropriate for former employees to continue to work in the international development industry post-CIDA employment ensuring that the requirements set out in the Policy on Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment are followed,” Mill said. “As of February 2012, CIDA had fully complied with the requirements set out in the policy on conflict of interest and post-employment.”
The code states that after they leave public office, government employees should minimize possibilities of:
Allowing prospects of outside employment to create conflict of interest.
Obtaining privileged access to government after leaving public office.
Taking personal advantage of information obtained in the course of official duties until it has become publicly available.
Using public office to unfair advantage in obtaining opportunities for outside employment.
The report by the Canadian public integrity commissioner suggests that an unnamed CIDA official who “misused public funds” left the agency while the investigation was ongoing in 2011.
This official violated the government’s ethics code by “placing himself in conflict of interest situations on numerous occasions by engaging in private business activities, and at times, accepting private business contracts with an organization that also deals with the government,” the report noted.
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