April 2017

Maintaining professional standards – report on compliance with the AusIMM Code of Ethics and professional codes

  • By AusIMM Complaints and Ethics Committees

The Complaints and Ethics Committees’ report on their work monitoring compliance with the AusIMM Code of Ethics and professional codes during 2016

The AusIMM prides itself on the professional standards and competence of our members. The strong international reputation that our membership has for professionalism and best practice is supported by our robust compliance framework.

All AusIMM members commit to observe the Institute By-Laws, Code of Ethics and other professional codes adopted by the Board. Members also have a responsibility to ensure that these requirements are observed by colleagues to preserve the trust that industry and communities place in our professional members.

In addition to this commitment, which is reaffirmed each year at the time of membership renewal, the Institute maintains a program of education and enforcement.

The monitoring of member compliance relies on members and others raising issues of concern directly with the AusIMM. This process is managed with a two-tier approach whereby complaints are initially heard and investigated by the Complaints Committee, which may then pass matters on to the Ethics Committee for determination as it sees fit.

When a complaint is received by the Complaints Committee, the material is reviewed to determine whether the complaint is accepted for investigation. This review includes confirmation of AusIMM membership of the respondent to the complaint as well as a judgement on whether the complaint indicates a clear allegation of breach of the AusIMM By-Laws, Code of Ethics or another professional code endorsed by the AusIMM Board. If a complaint is refused, the complainant is advised of the decision and asked to consider directing the complaint to another appropriate body (in the case of a non-member) or restating and resubmitting the complaint with sufficient explanation of how a member’s behaviour has breached the By-Laws, Code of Ethics or an AusIMM-endorsed code.

Once a complaint is accepted, the Complaints Committee commences its investigation with a request for information from the respondent to the complaint. It may also seek additional evidence relevant to the complaint. A panel of three members of the Complaints Committee is formed to review the matter in detail. In many cases, an independent expert may be engaged to assist with a thorough review of material and legal advice may also be sought. All expert reviews and legal input are engaged on a strictly confidential basis.

The Complaints Committee investigation will result in one of the following outcomes:

  • a recommendation that the complaint be settled through alternative dispute resolution
  • referral of the complaint to the Ethics Committee if a breach of the AusIMM Code of Ethics is suspected
  • referral of the matter to judicial process where a breach of law may have occurred
  • liaison with regulatory authorities to form an agreed pathway to resolution in the case of breach of the JORC or VALMIN Codes
  • determine the outcome of a complaint deemed within its authority
  • dismissal of the complaint.

Any decision of the Complaints Committee can be appealed to the Ethics Committee.

Where the Complaints Committee refers a complaint to the Ethics Committee, the Ethics Committee may obtain independent expert or legal advice on evidence supplied from the Complaints Committee investigation, but it cannot seek additional evidence or bring an ethics complaint against any member of its own accord.

The complaints process involves judgement by peers and is not a legal process. Penalties that may be imposed on AusIMM members where a breach of the Code of Ethics and/or professional codes is confirmed include:

  • caution/reprimand
  • mediation
  • counselling
  • membership suspension or expulsion from the Institute
  • publication of details of the breach
  • recovery of costs to the AusIMM
  • reporting of outcomes to appropriate authorities in the case of a breach of law.

Confidentiality and complainant anonymity are key principles of the AusIMM compliance framework, with the identity of the complainant kept confidential from the member responding to the complaint. The identities of a party or parties to the complaint are not disclosed, except in the following cases:

  • where the Ethics Committee has resolved that notice of a breach be published, in which case the name of the respondent may be made public
  • in the unlikely event that the matter advances to legal proceedings independent of the AusIMM process, where the identity of the complainant and respondent may become known as part of the discovery of documents process or if the AusIMM is directed by a court (or other legally empowered person) to make such information available.

Complaints received during 2016

The past year saw a further increase in the number of complaints submitted for investigation by the AusIMM.

As shown in Figure 1, of the 24 complaints received during 2016:

  • Nineteen related to JORC Code compliance.
  • One related to compliance with the 2015 VALMIN Code, which became mandatory as of 1 July 2016.
  • Four related to compliance with the Code of Ethics, including allegations around undertaking work outside of a member’s area of competence as well as various ethical concerns stemming from, or intertwined with, commercial disputes and relationships between clients and consultants. These cases are particularly complex given the boundaries of the AusIMM complaints process with regard to commercial disputes.

The number of JORC complaints has risen, particularly in response to the increase in transparency required by the 2012 edition of the JORC Code. The majority of these complaints relate to failure to provide adequate transparency, incorrect declaration of the competent person, failure to provide Table 1 and associated detail and estimation and sampling concerns. Only in a very few cases has there been evidence of serious and material breaches of the JORC Code. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of all Competent Persons to ensure that public reports as defined by the JORC Code comply with all elements of the Code. The Complaints Committee is working closely with JORC to identify areas of concern or confusion for feedback into education programs and future updates to the Code. This sharing of information is done with consideration of the confidentiality of all complaints matters. Only non-specific, de-identified information is shared in this way.

At the time of writing, ten matters remain open, with investigation and consideration continuing. One 2016 matter was withdrawn, two were dismissed as unsubstantiated and three were made with regard to non-members of the AusIMM and were referred to the appropriate kindred bodies. A further two matters were resolved without fault, and six matters were resolved with the issuance of a caution to the respondent. These advices urging the members in question to exercise caution related to a range of issues, including the use of specific terminology in Public Reports. In addition to these matters, an appeal to a 2015 matter is currently pending finalisation.

During 2016, one matter raised with the AusIMM in 2015 was resolved with the serious determination to expel an AusIMM member and name him publically. On 6 June 2016, the Institute distributed a media release advising the public of the decision to expel Mr Herman Tso. The media release is available from the AusIMM website.

How members can support professional standards

AusIMM members’ rights and obligations are set out in the By-Laws of the Institute:

  • By-Law 25 requires all members to observe and be bound by the terms of the By-Laws, Code of Ethics and any professional code adopted by the AusIMM Board
  • By-Law 26 establishes the AusIMM’s compliance process, including the constitution and powers of the Complaints and Ethics Committees
  • the Code of Ethics details members’ obligations for ethical professional practice
  • the JORC and VALMIN Codes have been adopted by the Board and apply to all AusIMM members when they work in the fields of reporting Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves or the Technical Assessments and Valuation of Mineral and Petroleum Assets and Securities.

Outside of the compliance process, individual AusIMM members are contributing to upholding professional ethics. This may be simply through demonstrating ethical professional practice in their everyday work or by leading and educating staff, colleagues and peers in the workplace and discussing obligations with others to ensure that they remain top of mind.

Sometimes, individual leadership may mean taking the step of talking to someone who may be operating in a way that might breach that person’s obligations under a professional code or the Code of Ethics. Complaints and Ethics Committee members likely see only a small proportion of concerns over professional conduct as many of these concerns are identified and resolved long before they could become a formal AusIMM complaint matter. This is because individual members take the time to address potential concerns with their colleagues and peers and is an essential part of the compliance process.

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