Most of the 10 European countries included in a new report by Transparency International (TI) lack adequate laws to protect whistleblowers who often take risks and brave possible sanctions to expose wrongdoing, including corruption.
In addition to revealing a legal void, the report also identifies ambivalent or negative attitudes towards those who report malfeasance in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Such negative perceptions, the report found, deter insiders from exposing corruption.
“Inadequate protection will result in crime going unreported,” said Miklos Marschall, Director for Europe and Central Asia at TI. “Whistleblowers must be shielded from retaliation. There must also be effective mechanisms to investigate their allegations.”
Whistleblowing is a key component in the fight against corruption. Those within public institutions and the private sector who speak out about wrongdoing potentially save lives and resources, as was the case when a doctor disclosed the cover-up of the SARS outbreak in China. Poor or no follow-up of initial reports, as in the Madoff pyramid-scheme scandal in the United States, can cost investors millions.
The TI report, Alternative to silence: Whistleblower protection in 10 European countries , shows that with the exception of Romania, none of the countries analysed currently have stand-alone whistleblower protection legislation. Hungary and Lithuania are in the process of drafting legislation. Further, in many countries, the act of reporting may be superseded by other laws which prohibit the release of information while libel and defamation regulations deter whistleblowing, the report found.
“Whistleblowers face high personal risks, particularly when there is little legal recourse to save them from dismissal, humiliation and even physical abuse,” said Anja Osterhaus, Programme Coordinator at TI and author of the report. “When illegal or unethical behaviour is reported, we all stand to gain. Companies, public bodies and non-profit organisations should introduce mechanisms to encourage internal reporting and provide a safe alternative to silence.”
Of the 10 countries studied, eight are from the former Soviet block and have inherited negative connotations associated with the concept of whistleblowing, which is seen as synonymous with being an informant, traitor and snitch. Ireland suffers a similar legacy, connected to years of political unrest, and in Italy the notion of whistleblowing is often equated with treason.
TI and its chapters in the 10 countries analysed, call for a two-pronged approach to protect and thus benefit from whistleblowing:
Countries must introduce and enforce comprehensive, stand-alone whistleblower legislation that protects informants and ensures claims are followed up. Additionally, there is a need for a clear mechanism to review procedures and their implementation in a transparent manner.
An educational process to de-stigmatise whistleblowing is also essential so that citizens understand the value of disclosing wrongdoing and how this benefits the public good.
The aim of the report, which was co-funded by the European Commission, was to identify and assess existing legal mechanisms in the 10 countries analysed.
Transparency International is the civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption
Download the report here
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