The Ethics Column
What sort of complaints does AIG deal with regarding members’ conduct?
The types of complaints dealt with by AIG’s Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees and the number of complaints dealt with are probably the two most frequent questions asked about the complaints and ethics and standards process.
It’s worth pointing out that all complaints received by AIG are dealt with in accordance with the Institute’s complaints process, the workflow for which is explained by the diagram below that is also published on the AIG web site.
Under this process, all complaints are investigated by the Complaints Committee determines whether there are grounds for referring the complaint to the Ethics and Standards Committee for a ruling on the issue. The purpose of the two-committee process is to ensure procedural fairness for the subject of the complaint. The Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees have completely separate membership. Members who do not agree with Ethics and Standards Committee findings have the option of appealing any decision to the Institute’s Council, where any Councillors previously involved in the matter during the Complaints and Ethics and Standards processes do not participate in reaching any appeal decision.
Both the Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees attempt to deal with issues before them in a prompt manner, but the time required to complete processing of any complaint depends on the complexity and gravity of each case.
There are typically between one and three complaints under investigation by the Complaints Committee at any point in time. Many members I’ve told this are surprised by the number of complaints received by the committee and express surprise that there is not broader knowledge of this amongst members. This is actually a very positive sign that the committees are working effectively. To be fair to both complainants and those members against whom a complaint has been made, the processes need to be conducted in confidence. Where there is no case to answer, the subject of the complaint and the complainant are informed of the outcome. Where there is an adverse finding, however, the outcomes of the investigation and rulings are published. There hasn’t been an adverse finding warranting publication for some time, hence the low profile of the Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees.
What sort of issues are the subjects of complaints?
Complaints cover any aspect of professional practice. At their core, the subjects of complaints can be classified as:
- Professional Misconduct;
- Incompetence; and,
Professional misconduct is elegantly described by Andrews (2014) as “any conduct detrimental to the interests of the public”, that “harms or tends to harm the standing of the profession generally” or “would reasonably be considered disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional”. AIG’s Code of Ethics provides more specific guidance that supports these very general principles.
In the past, AIG has dealt with complaints regarding alleged:
- unethical treatment of a member by another, which covers a range of issues including plagiarism and engaging in conduct that unfairly tarnishes a member’s professional standing or reputation;
- unethical treatment of a member by an employer (who may or may not be a member of AIG);
- failure to comply with the JORC or VALMIN Codes (which is mandatory for all AIG members); and,
- poor professional practice, such as failing to complete work that a member has been contracted to undertake, or failure to deliver work of a standard commensurate with the member’s experience or contract terms.
Complaints associated with JORC compliance probably account for between one half and two thirds of the Complaints Committee’s work and, in recent times, have been focussed on the ability of members to act as Competent Persons as defined by JORC; i.e. meeting the commodity experience requirements. The remaining third of complaints cover a diverse range of issues in which the treatment of members by employers feature. These are, possibly, the most complex issues dealt with by the Complaints and Ethics and Standards committees as there are frequently situations where laws and government regulations come into consideration. Legal advice may be needed, and is sought where required, to help resolve issues of this nature.
Who Can Make a Complaint?
Any individual or corporation can make a complaint regarding the actions of an AIG member. All written complaints, clearly outlining the basis for considering the conduct of a member to be unsatisfactory, initiate a complaints process.
Does AIG monitor the conduct of members?
AIG expects members to comply with the Institute’s Code of Ethics at all times. The Institute is not, generally, in a position to monitor the conduct of members and expects members to honour their obligation, set out in the Code of Ethics, to make the Institute aware of instances where the conduct of others may be in breach of the Code. The exception to this relates to JORC and VALMIN where there is a process of random review of announcements in which members are nominated as Competent Persons. This process at times reveals a statement by a company that is considered not to comply with either code. The Complaints Committee, in these instances, may itself initiate a complaint against a member, or make a complaint on behalf of the Institute to another body. There have been several instances in the past year where AIG has referred the compliance of companies with the JORC Code to the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) for investigation that have involved alleged inappropriate use of information provided by Competent Persons, or failure to nominate a Competent Person in releases providing exploration results, mineral resource and ore reserve information.
There have also been instances where AIG has referred an alleged issue with the conduct of a Competent Person to AusIMM, where the individual is not an AIG member but believes there are grounds for the conduct of the Competent Person to be investigated. AIG investigates all issues involving AIG members. There are situations, most frequently associated with JORC Code compliance, where AIG members who are also AusIMM members may be investigated independently by both Institutes (and vice-versa).
Two obligations apply to all AIG members, irrespective of their grade of membership:
- Members have an obligation to report conduct by another member that they believe may not comply with the Institute’s Code of Ethics.
- Members are required to fully cooperate with any Complaints or Ethics and Standards investigation in which they may become involved.
Non-compliance with the Code of Ethics has potential to undermine the standing and perception of our profession and this is at the core of our profession’s ability to undertake meaningful self-regulation.
Members are able to seek an opinion or advice on issues that they feel may represent non-compliance with AIG’s Code of Ethics from the Complaints Committee, which is provided in confidence.
Chairman AIG Complaints Committee
Andrews G.C., 2014. Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience Practice and Ethics (Fifth Edition). Nelson Education Limited, Toronto (472 pp).