David Hutton – June 14, 2012
Berlin, Germany—On 24 May, twenty-seven delegates from fifteen countries took part in an experts roundtable to finalize the content of Transparency International's Recommended principles for whistleblower legislation – a guidance document for lawmakers.
It was fitting that this Transparency International Whistleblowing Experts Roundtable took place in eastern Berlin, not far from where the wall dividing East from West finally started to come down – signalling one of the most sweeping (and unexpected) political changes of our time. This meeting was also about creating change: providing legislators around the world with an important tool to help push back the tide of corruption.
This was also a fitting venue because much of the impetus for TI’s focus on whistleblower protection came from former Soviet bloc countries that are now democracies, struggling to throw off the legacy of decades of corrupt practices ingrained under communist rule. They know that corruption is the enemy not only of economic development, but also of democracy itself.
The Roundtable was a follow-on from a similar event held in Prague in 2009, where the Recommended principles for whistleblower legislation were first drafted. In Prague we laid out the basic structure and created a draft – in Berlin we made final adjustments to create a finished product.
TI changed understanding of corruption
Before TI conducted research showing the devastating economic effects of corruption, economists had viewed it as a necessary, even valuable, component of third world economies, for example helping to keep the wheels turning in the face of impossibly complex bureaucratic rules.
But economists had misunderstood the cause-effect relationship – such obstructive rules are created by those in charge precisely to facilitate corruption, by making it easier to extract bribes to get the simplest things done. Rather than greasing the wheels of the economy, corruption imposes a massive illicit tax, affecting virtually every transaction, which bypasses the state coffers and goes straight into the personal bank accounts of those in power.
Once this was understood, organizations like the World Bank began to radically change their approach, to prevent valuable development funds from being dishonestly siphoned off.
Events like this are important because Transparency International was instrumental in launching the global anti-corruption movement and remains the leading Civil Society Organization in this field. TI has a truly international reach – with a substantial secretariat based in Berlin and chapters in over 100 countries – and a proud track record. From modest beginnings in 1993 it has accomplished a great deal, for example influencing agencies such as the World Bank to stop shovelling billions of dollars of development aid more or less directly into the personal bank accounts of third world dictators and their cronies (see sidebar).
In contrast, whistleblower protection has been pioneered at a country level by civil society organizations. They have helped get whistleblowing laws onto the books in these jurisdictions, and helped make the legislation work by providing guidance and support to whistleblowers. They have also conducted research into what works and what doesn’t, clarifying best practices. Some of these groups have several decades of experience in this highly specialized field.
What they have learned is that creating effective whistleblowing systems is not easy – mainly because of the knee-jerk tendency of organizations to attack the whistleblower rather than the problem, and the massive imbalance of resources in the battle that ensues. The lesson is clear: to create effective whistleblowing systems, consult with the experts and adopt best practices that have been proven to work elsewhere.
This is exactly what the developing alliance between TI specialist whistleblowing CSOs can help accomplish. There’s a good chance that these guidelines are just the first result of a powerful international alliance that brings together TI’s global presence, credibility and clout alongside the specialist expertise and experience of country whistleblowing CSOs.
FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform)
Subject Matter Experts
Bea Edwards, Government Accountability Project (US)
Marie Ghantous, Lebanese Center for International Studies (Lebanon)
Keith Henderson, Washington College of Law (US)
David Hutton, Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (Canada)
Cathy James, Public Concern at Work (UK)
David Lewis, University of Middlesex (UK)
Anna Myers, Public Concern at Work (UK)
Auwal Ibrahim Musa, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (Nigeria)
Guido Strack, Whistleblower Netzwerk (Germany),
Julio Bacio Terracino, OECD, Public Sector Integrity Division (France)
Wim Vandekerckhove, University of Greenwich Business School (UK)
Transparency International – Country Chapters
Anna Damaskou, TI Greece
Davide Del Monte, TI Italy
John Devitt, TI Ireland
Giorgio Fraschini, TI Italy
Aiga Grisane, TI Latvia
Käärt Kaljuvee, TI Estonia
Serge Marx, TI Luxembourg
Neringa Mickeviciute, TI Lithuania
Nourollah Moafi, TI Luxembourg
Sergej Muravjov, TI Lithuania
Maria Nini, TI Greece
Asso Prii, TI Estonia
Caroline van den Buijs, TI Belgium
Transparency International – Secretariat
Cobus de Swardt, TI Secretariat
Anja Osterhaus, TI Secretariat
Mark Worth, TI Secretariat
Sarah Strack, TI Secretariat
Elena Dalibot, TI Secretariat