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The government are keener to catch whistleblowers than tax avoiders

The treatment of Osita Mba, the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) solicitor, is a public scandal. It was he who revealed that Dave Hartnett, former head of HMRC, had made a private deal with Goldman Sachs, sealed with a handshake, that let them off payment of interest amounting to at least £10m. This issue of whether Hartnett was legally entitled to strike such a ‘sweetheart deal’ is currently a case before the High Court brought by UK Uncut.

But quite apart from these legalities, there is the equally important matter of the starkly unjust treatment subsequently meted out to Mba. He was relentlessly pursued with intrusive investigative powers reserved for catching serious criminals, his belongings, emails, mobile number, internet search records and phone calls were purloined by investigators as were the phone records of his wife, and he was suspended from his work though he continued to be harassed and bullied by HMRC officials. Ostensibly this was to find out whether he had contacted the Guardian which printed the story (which he had not), though the real motive was revenge by Hartnett at being exposed.

In fact Mba had acted entirely correctly in contacting, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees in confidence. But using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – even without the current Communications Data Bill (otherwise known as the Snoopers’ Charter) now scuppered because of intense public opposition – HMRC was able to see websites viewed by taxpayers, where a mobile phone call was made or received, and the date and time of emails, texts and phone calls. Yet the HMRC websire says explicitly that these powers “can only be used when investigating serious crime”!

What this whole saga reveals is (i) how feeble or non-existent are the supposed official checks against improper use of legal powers designed for an entirely different purpose, and (ii) the complete lack of protection afforded to whisteblowers by the Public Interest Disclosure Act. In light of this case it neither gives them the security to feel able to come forward with information that is clearly in the public interest nor the protection subsequently against being hounded and/or evicted from their job. I intend to pursue this further both by PQs and by asking the Home Affairs Select Committee to undertake an inquiry in order to recommend fresh and effective safeguards to protect the essential role of the whistleblower.

3 Comments

  1. John p Reid says:

    There should be protection for whistle blowers, without them overstping the mark and going into slander, the press try toinderictly smear them by reprinting their allegations about of context,

  2. Osita Mba should recieve a medal for his courageous stand on the disgraceful activities of Hartnett in securing tax deals detrimental to taxpayers and sealing them with a (Masonic)handshake. It does seem that these sort of activities are rife in Whitehall and local government and government agencies among senior personnel, particularly those that may be approaching retirement. Cynics would say that they are hoping to secure lucrative posts with the major firms that these departments deal with, after retirement, or if they leave government service prematurely

  3. Gerry says:

    Agreed – Mr Mba should be honoured, not hounded

    The sickening nexus of tax-avoiding top companies, HMRC officials, accountancy firms like Price Waterhouse and Deloitte revealed, yet again

    We should not be surprised….after the “criminal/media nexus” of the Murdoch mafiosi, and the banking/City gangster mafia bailed out and enriched by the rest of us, this scandal is par for the course in our rotten corrupt system

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