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Sexual harassment complaints at CEF and the integrity program

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On June 29, 2022, several media outlets, including the Isto É Dinheiro magazine, published revelations that, despite the political capitalization by the government's opponents, brought to light a worrying threat to the effectiveness of the integrity programs implemented in the various government entities.

It should be noted that on January 4, 2019, the Office of the Comptroller General (CGU) published Ordinance #57, which established guidelines for Federal government agencies, autonomous institutions/agencies, and foundations to adopt procedures for the structuring, execution and monitoring of their integrity programs, the so-called government compliance programs. A one-year term was granted for the integrity programs to be implemented.

I remember that at that time this initiative was seen as a memorable advance in the moralization of public service and in the fight against fraud and corruption. Licks Attorneys held a workshop in Brasília on the challenges in implementing an integrity program, in which several authorities from different public bodies, agencies, public companies and even the CGU participated, and where this columnist had the chance to scrutinize, debate and propose alternatives to solidify the integrity programs of such entities.

Back to the Isto É Dinheiro magazine, it states that the website Metrópoles reported that 5 women complained of inappropriate behavior by the head of Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF - the Brazilian Federal Savings Bank). According to one of the reports, an employee alleges that the head of the CEF would have groped her. It has also been reported that female employees would have been hugged around the waist or neck, and even endure intimate touches. According to complaints, women were “handpicked” by the head of the CEF to travel with him.

In a statement to Metrópoles, the CEF informed that it was not aware of the allegations of sexual harassment against Guimarães and that it has protocols in place to prevent any improper conduct by its employees.

In addition, there are reports and even recordings of moral harassment perpetrated by the aforementioned head of the CEF.

Currently, despite an investigation being carried out by the Federal Prosecution Office (MPF), it is necessary to question the effectiveness of the CEF's whistleblowing system, which has been managed by outsourcer Contato Seguro since 2019. While outsourcing the service to a respectable company is important to ensure that reports are received and documented, it is not enough; so much so that the MPF is investigating allegations that some people who reported such facts were advised to refrain from moving forward with it.

If this is indeed proven, it greatly compromises the efficiency of the institution's integrity program and brings up a serious and difficult problem to be discussed both in the public and private sectors, that is, how to maintain the effectiveness of a compliance program when the alleged infringer is the head of such institution?

Corporations are perhaps the easiest corporate structure to solve the problem, by making the team of compliance officers subordinate to the chairman of the non-executive board. This would provide greater independence to address any misconduct committed by a director or even the head.

In the Government, the situation could also be mitigated if the CGU and the Public Ethics Commission, within their respective scopes of action, took a more active role in preventive training and in monitoring the conduct of public officers and employees, as well as in the reporting through such whistleblowing channels. For this to happen, the unconditional support of the President of Brazil and his ministers is essential.

However, the most challenging thing is to guarantee such effectiveness in family-run, medium-sized or small businesses.

Acts of misconduct, such as those dealt with in this case, will possibly never cease to exist, but it is necessary to think about Corrective and Preventive Actions (CAPA), that is, an action plan to, at least, mitigate its effects, starting with a regulation or a well-designed policy establishing the applicable rules, as well as consistent training to consolidate the culture of doing the right thing in a transparent way.

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