As the state auditor and Legislature look into controversial contracts between the Hawaii State Department of Taxation and the information technology company CGI Group Inc., one tax department employee has filed a grievance saying she was retaliated against for speaking up within the department.

The unnamed employee claims she was publicly reprimanded by acting director Stanley Shiraki for speaking out about something she saw as wrong within the tax department, according to the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA). Shiraki, who was the department’s deputy director at the time of the incident, allegedly called into question the employee’s competency in an email to the employee and to legislators after the employee voiced her concerns.

The grievance is currently pending, and further details cannot be released until the case is resolved, union officials said.1

Acting Director of the Department of Taxation Stan Shiraki said he could not comment on the grievance because the complaint is still in process.

“I have a response,” Shiraki told Civil Beat in a phone conversation. “But I don’t think I can say it.”

The tax department has come under scrutiny by both legislators and the auditor for more than $87 million in contracts with CGI. The Montreal-based information technology company was awarded multiple contracts to build and maintain computer systems for the tax department since 1999.

  1. A previous version of this story said the grievance was in arbitration. The grievance is pending.

In April, a former tax employee testified before the Hawaii Senate that the contracts were problematic. The system has aided in the collection of $84 million in delinquent taxes since January 2008, $25 million of which was paid to CGI. But tax department officials say the system crashes 200 times a day. It also sends out erroneous letters to people who have paid their taxes, according to legislative testimony.

In Senate hearings, members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee have probed into whether CGI has fulfilled the terms of their contracts and whether the company held undue power within the department, such as influencing hiring and firing of employees. A state auditor’s investigation is also currently underway.

To date, this is the only retaliation-related grievance filed with HGEA, according to the organization that represents state tax employees. But union officials say they will continue to monitor the situation at the tax department.

“[The Department of] Tax, in particular, has been a real concern,” said HGEA Union Agent Rajani Adhikary told Civil Beat. “These public servants are just doing their jobs, and when they see things that aren’t correct or aren’t right, they’re getting reprimanded for doing their jobs.”

Grievances can be common within unions. They can range from serious charges of sexual harassment to more simple frustrations about broken air conditioners.

The tax employee’s complaint, however, comes during a time of increased concerns about the tax department’s relationship with CGI.

Since 1999, the tax department has spent $87.5 million on contracts with CGI. Most recently, the company received $25 million to recover unpaid taxes from 2008 to 2011. Now legislators and the state auditor are investigating whether CGI has delivered on its promises to provide an effective tax computer system.

Adhikary testified at last week’s Senate hearings about the contracts. As the union representative for department employees, she emphasized the need to protect employees who want to speak out.

“To be honest, the retaliation at the department of taxation is very real,” Adhikary said. “There are people feeling that there is something wrong with this contract, not knowing exactly why, but just knowing that this administration has somehow empowered this private vendor to be controlling and directing people within the department. That is a major concern of ours.”

The auditor’s report is slated to be completed some time around the end of the year.

Discussion: Come talk about the CGI contract controversy in our discussion.

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