Tuesday

12th Dec 2017

Transparency group pushes for stronger whistleblower laws

The harsh treatment of people who expose corruption is a deterrent for others to step forward, says Transparency International (TI).

Dalia Budreviciene, a celebrated whistleblower in Lithuania, has become a warning for others to think twice before rendering public corruption in the Baltic nation.

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  • The European Commission estimates €120 billion is lost every year to corruption (Photo: h.koppdelaney)

“She is actually jobless, she has had a series of health issues since she blew the whistle in 2006,” Sergejus Muravjovas, executive director at TI Lithuania, said at a European Policy Centre debate on corruption on Thursday (6 March).

“I think she has served as a deterrent to many other people to speak out publically,” added Muravjovas.

Budreviciene received a medal of courage from the president for her actions.

But Muravjovas says Budreviciene, if given a second chance, would not have disclosed the scandal in the first place.

Budreviciene was fired from Krekenavos Agrofirmfor, a meat-processing company in Lithuania, for speaking out against salary payments made off the book.

Known as the “envelope practice”, the scheme means the company avoids paying taxes. It also deprives employees of social security benefits.

Budreviciene took the company to court for having fired her for exposing the scheme. After a lengthy trial, she was awarded over €24,000.

But Budreviciene’s case points to a larger problem of weak or non-existent whistleblower laws throughout the bloc and the EU’s reluctance to give it priority.

The vast majority of member states do not have adequate whistleblower protection laws, says Transparency International.

It notes that few are aligned with international standard and most do not offer legal protection.

Laws in Lithuania do not provide any protection for public or private sector employees who reveal wrong-doing. Lithuania is not alone.

Denmark for example has no well-defined whistleblower regulations and no stand-alone whistleblower law.

Others are more pro-active.

Romania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and the UK are the only member states considered to have any sort of advanced whistleblower protection laws.

With its public interest disclosure act (PIDA), the UK has some of the strongest whistleblower protection laws in the world.

The act protects almost all government employees as well as people in the private and non-profit sector - even if they are stationed abroad.

UK employers, for instance, are required to prove that any action taken against an employee is not motivated by his or her disclosure of wrong-doing.

Romania, for its part, was the first member state in 2004 to pass a dedicated law to shield whistleblowers from retaliation. But the law is not often applied in practice, notes TI.

The European Commission in its first EU anti-corruption report published in February recognizes the difficulties faced by whistleblowers.

The report examines and grades anti-corruption measures in each member state.

But Carl Dolan, who heads the TI EU Office in Brussels, says the commission’s report treats whistleblowing, whistleblowing legislation, and access to documents as background issues.

“These are more than just background issues, they are vital channels to expose corruption and also more generally indicative of political and administrative culture,” he said.

EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said much of what is proposed in the anti-corruption report “is in the hands of the member states”.

She noted it is up to member states to determine how to organize legislation on whistleblowers, electoral systems and party funding rules.

“It is very doubtful whether we have the legal competence to make whistleblower legislation on the European level. We are looking at this but it is not obvious,” she said.

Romania wants EU signal on Schengen membership

Bucharest expects other member states to decide on its accession to the passport-free area before it takes the rotating EU presidency on 1 January 2019 - amid criticism of a controversial new justice reform.

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