Union chief demands inquiry into Canada’s Phoenix pay scandal; AEC launches disinformation register: policy & delivery news in brief

By on 10/03/2022 | Updated on 10/03/2022
A pile of Canadian money
Photo Anita Hart reproduced under Creative Commons

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Head of Canadian public service union calls for inquiry into Phoenix pay disaster

A public sector union leader has called for a national public inquiry into the botched rollout of the Phoenix pay system for Canadian public servants.

In an article to mark the sixth anniversary of the launch of the system, which led to more than 70% of Canada’s public service workforce either being paid incorrect amounts or not paid at all due to flawed software, Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said an inquiry was needed to investigate the mismanagement of the pay system branded an “incomprehensible failure”.

Writing in the Hamilton Spectator, he said victims of the disaster “lost their homes, their cars, their savings and their mental health”.

“We may never see the true scope and impact of this unmitigated disaster on workers and taxpayers unless a national public inquiry is launched. How else can we hold the government accountable and make sure the same mistakes will never be repeated?”

Phoenix was launched by the Canadian federal government in 2016, having been provided by IBM. Shortly after it was rolled out, complaints from public servants emerged about incorrect payments.

On 28 June that year, around 12 federal unions including PSAC filed a lawsuit against the government in the Canadian Federal Court with the aim of forcing a correction to the Phoenix system. In July 2020, PSAC announced a major settlement with the Government of Canada, including compensation of C$2,500 (US$1,951) for all employees affected by blighted credit ratings, accumulated interest on loans and credit cards, as well as mental anguish and trauma.

“Every pay cheque is a fresh reminder that the government still can’t figure out how to pay their workers correctly or on time. In fact, since Phoenix was launched in 2016, there hasn’t been a single pay period without significant errors. Not one,” Aylward said.

AEC launches register to fight disinformation about elections

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has launched a new disinformation register which aims to discredit lies about the country’s federal election processes.

The register gives examples of disinformation on AEC’s radar, including the assertion that election dates are known to the commission before they have been called by the prime minister, and that unvaccinated Australians will be barred from voting.

Tom Rogers, Australia’s electoral commissioner, said the agency would waste no time ensuring false information about the country’s election process is exposed and debunked.

“If you spread incorrect information about the processes we run – deliberately or otherwise – we will correct you,” Rogers said. The register also seeks to reposition AEC and its staff as a key trusted authority on Australian elections are run. Rogers said the register came about through a reputation-management strategy developed for the agency.

“Australian elections are too important to let these things go through to the keeper, especially when people aren’t acting in good faith,” he added.

“The message here is simple: the AEC will not tolerate the spread of misinformation or disinformation about our electoral system, no matter the source.”

In a statement, AEC said it had worked closely with big tech firms including Meta, Twitter, Google, Tencent, TikTok and Snap to discuss some of the false materials published on their platforms. The commission also plans to publish original content on its own website, including short videos, social media interactions, and press releases as part of its ‘stop and consider’ campaign ahead of the 2022 federal election.

Read more: Australia proposes voter ID law to crack down on alleged election fraud

Indian government urged to prioritise privacy as it embarks on data-sharing

Law and privacy experts have called on the Indian government to implement a data protection policy before moving ahead with data-sharing plans that would monetise public sector data.

A draft policy document unveiled by the country’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on 21 February outlines plans for all data created or held by government departments and authorised agencies to be shareable by default unless categorised as sensitive.

Under the plans, a new unit, the India Data Office, would be established from which organisations would be able to purchase data for research and other purposes.

Privacy experts are split over whether the India Data Accessibility and Use Policy is designed primarily to use data for economic gain or to enable social transformation and improve citizen services but in either case, failure to safeguard citizens’ data would likely result in legal challenge.   

Under a proposed Data Protection Bill, there would be a near blanket exemption for government agencies from adhering to the compliances outlined within it.

Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, which is based in New Delhi, believes the data-sharing framework does not sufficiently prioritise transparency and accountability.

If the policy is implemented, there is risk of the government “acting as a data broker” and being incentivised to collect more sensitive citizen data and to store it for longer periods. “This will undermine the privacy of citizens and make them susceptible to profiling on the basis of their government data by the private sector,” he told The Financial Express (FE). 

Read more: Indian government warned of privacy risks in data-sharing plan

Pakistan to launch digital ID wallet this year

Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) is planning to roll out a digital identity wallet later this year in a move that will end the need for physical ID.

NADRA is tasked with digitising all citizen data in the country, which – with more than 220 million citizens – is the fifth biggest in the world in terms of population.

As part of a digital push aimed at generating benefits including greater financial inclusion, the authority is working on a significant evolution of the existing ‘Pak-ID’ smartphone app – which was itself only introduced seven months ago, the authority’s chairman Tariq Malik told Pakistani media Dawn.

Launched last September, Pak-ID allows citizens to apply for a physical ID card remotely by using their Android or iOS device to scan documents and biometric data including their fingerprints and take a picture to verify their identity. When it was introduced, NADRA proclaimed that Pakistan had become ‘the first country in the world to introduce ID technology’.

Read more: Pakistan to launch digital ID wallet this year

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

One Comment

  1. Kristine Lange says:

    Only unionized employees received a settlement. No contract or casual employees received compensation even though we experienced the same issues with Phoenix. Not only was Phoenix a total unmitigated catastrophe but so was the compensation payout. Somehow those of us not represented by a union were completely ignored as having suffered extensive financial losses too. This added insult to deep financial injury. We had absolutely no recourse. It seems everything even associated with Phoenix is a disaster.

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