Whistle-blowers is someone, who sometimes may be an employee, who reveals shady deals such as fraud, illegal activities or abuse of taxpayers’ money within the public and private organization. Such information may be exposed externally or internally. For internal exposure of alleged corrupt practices, the whistleblower only report such fraudulent activities to a superior, human resources or third party within the organization. Externally, a whistleblower may choose to report perceived corrupt activities to third party outside the company such as law enforcement agencies, media or the government. In some cases, whistleblowers do not go scot-free without a reprisal attack from the personality being reported. Such retaliatory attacks may range from abrupt termination of appointment, bullying act and increase in workloads among other unpleasant attacks. According to corruption watch, the year 2020 witnessed the second highest number of corruption reports since its inception in 2012. Many corrupt practices were uncovered during the surge of COVID-19 pandemic; the procurement and eventual distribution of COVID-19 palliatives were characterized by public outrage against perceived rampant corruption. For instance during the lockdown, an average of eleven whistle-blowers’ reports was received at the office of Corruption Watch on a daily basis with Gauteng leading followed by KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. This necessitated the lamentation by David Lewis, the executive director of Corruption Watch who felt sad that some public officials took advantage of the global health crisis to loot essential goods and services, including relief packages meant for distribution to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
FACTORS AFFECTING WHISTLEBLOWERS
Reprisal attacks at work: In most cases, there is always reprisal attacks on whistleblowers when their identity is not protected by the organization. This has often led to lack of synergy and cooperation between the reported and whistleblowers. In some cases, there may be witch-hunting, demotion and increase in workloads on the part of the whistleblower when the offender is a superior officer.
Loss of life: This is one of the most devastating part of whistleblowing. Whistleblowers stand the risk of being victimized or assassinated. Their families may also not be spared if the identity of the whistleblower is not properly protected. This has led to so many being discouraged and prefer to play along rather than exposing any iota of fraudulent activities. Though there are existing laws that can offer protection for whistleblowers, there may be some loopholes that the assailants may capitalize on to perpetrate their dastardly act. Regular review of the existing laws to catch up with the evolving realities will help stem such occurrences.
Lack of adequate motivation: There should be adequate motivation for the whistleblowers in order to encourage them and others to expose any act of corrupt practices. This is because there are so many risks associated with whistleblowing in an organization. If no adequate compensation is given to whistleblowers, many may be discouraged and may prefer to stay quiet rather than expose their life and that of their families to unforeseen danger that may be perpetrated by the assailants.
Lack of adequate laws to protect whistleblowers: Although there are laws in place to protect whistleblowers from impeding dangers, there must be improvement or amendment on some of the existing laws to give adequate protection to whistleblowers. They should feel protected before, during and after “blowing the whistle”. If there is need to introduce new laws or bills, it should be done for the benefit of the citizens and the economy of the nation.
NEGATIVE EFFECT OF WHISTLEBLOWING
Bad image for the organization/country: As good as whistleblowing is, it does not happen sometimes, without leaving a dent on the organization or the country as the case may be. This is usually the case when the whistleblower decides to report to “third party’. In this case, the third party may be a lawyer or media outlets among others. When the report is made open to the public, it reduces public trust in such an organization/country, and it may take so many years before the image of such organization/country is redeemed.
Security threat: Anytime the report of the whistleblowers get to the public domain, either through negligence on the part of whistleblowers or through third-party outlet, it might constitute a security threat to the organization most especially if the report has to do with security lapses that could easily be compromised by external parties. When that occurs, the whistleblower may be reprimanded and made to bear the consequence of his/her action.
Personal risk: When the identity of the whistleblowers is revealed sometimes by the third parties, it puts the whistleblowers at serious risk. This is because the offender may launch a reprisal attack on the whistleblower or any member of his/her family. This is one of the reasons why some potential whistleblowers may decide to exercise some caution when it comes to fraud exposure. There has been reports of assassination and brutal attacks in some instances on the part of whistleblowers or their family members. There must be ethical ways of protecting the identity of whistleblowers if at all we want more corrupt practices to be exposed. Anonymous mechanisms known as “hotlines” may be adopted. This is a mechanism whereby whistleblowers report any case of misconduct of fellow employee or senior colleagues through choice of options for absolute confidentiality.
IMPORTANCE OF WHISTLEBLOWERS
There are numerous benefit the whistleblowers attract to the society. Some of these benefits are enumerated thus:
Enhancement of the socio-economic status of the country: Whistleblowers can help improve of the socio-economic status of the country by exposing every fraudulent activities in the public and private sectors. This will help recover and conserve most of the resources for the benefit of the masses instead of the few corrupt officers. If the tempo is allowed to continue, it is anticipated that the socio-economic wellbeing of the citizens will be enhanced.
Reduction in fraudulent activities: Once it is well known and established that there are severe consequences for misconduct and fraudulent acts and that whistleblowers are handsomely rewarded; there will be less interest in siphoning the nation’s wealth into private pockets, thus curtailing corrupt practices and financial misappropriation.
Equal distribution of resources: One of the significant benefits of whistleblowers is that it ensures equal distribution of resources instead of being high jacked by the few in the society. Once the resources of the society are well secured, it will allow the leaders to plan well and ensure most of the available resource are fairly and equitably distributed.
It builds professional and trustworthy ethics: One of the best ways to instil professional ethics and ensure excellent service delivery in private and public organizations is to put mechanism in place that will prevent financial manipulation to the benefit of few. Such mechanism should include and also ensure whistleblowing is allowed to thrive in order to block any financial loopholes and corrupt practices. There should also be professional enlightenment programmes for the employees in order to enhance their professional and financial ethics even in the face of weak financial structure within the system.
DISADVANTAGES OF WHISTLEBLOWING
In some instances, there may be misleading report by whistleblower when flags are raised over alleged misconduct or corrupt practices which may result in unjust punishment of innocent person. Sometimes this may happen unintentionally but may also occur to spite perceived enemy. There should be strong penalty for any whistleblower who raise false alarm in order to bring their organization or any individual to disrepute.
In conclusion, whistleblowing has its own demerits, the merits as outlined in this write-up outweighs the demerits and as such should be well supported in order to achieve its purpose. Laws and policies should be improved upon to guide against gross mismanagement of funds and encourage the citizen to expose any act of financial-misconduct or recklessness for the overall good of nation.
Dr. Adefemi Obalede is a postdoctoral researcher. He writes in his personal capacity