by Evert-Jan Lammers
Nobody wants to be spied upon and then reported to the authorities like it happened during the war. Whistleblowers provoke war traumas even to those who have never experienced war. However, whistleblowers are not war-heroes but peace-heroes. No drama then?
A whistleblower is a colleague or a fellow-citizen who reports corruption, fraud and other wrongdoing during peacetime. He is convinced that the wrongdoing would go undetected forever unless he reports it. The fact that the organization does not react responsibly, provides the whistleblower with a license to operate. It is the next step in case the first steps have failed, when silence is not an option.
Reporting of wrongdoing must be mandatory if the organization appears to be unable to solve the problem. Anonymous reporting should be allowed because the risks to the whistleblower cannot be denied. However, personal reporting must be encouraged, as this will increase the chances of a successful investigation. How should authorities, politicians and business leaders see whistleblowing? Should it be tolerated, encouraged or even rewarded?
1. Whistleblowing is acceptable if the organization does not react responsibly to wrongdoing;
2. Therefore, whistleblowing procedures must form an integral part of risk management;
3. Logically whistleblowing must be made mandatory;
4. Hence, whistleblowers deserve protection;
5. Anonymous reporting is acceptable as the risks for whistleblowers remain substantial;
6. However personal reporting must be encouraged to privilege successful investigation;
7. Whistleblowing must be mildly rewarded at least to compensate for the hardship.
Any collaborator has a difference of opinion with his superior once in a while. If the difference remains, it can be referred to HR, to the boss of the superior, to the workers’ council, or to a person of trust. If these first steps fail, and if the reporter is afraid of retaliation, a hotline may come to help: whistleblowing hotline, green line, etc. This hotline should be hosted on a server outside the organization, in order to guarantee anonymity (the IT-people must not be able peep-in) and to ensure direct reporting to the appropriate level (Executive Board or Supervisory Board). If this next step fails, we are probably dealing with an organization that is behaving irresponsibly. The whistleblower may decide to inform the authorities (police, public prosecutor, stock exchange) or a parliamentarian. A vicious whistleblower may even inform a competitor or a journalist, or start blogging.
Whistleblowing procedures show the next steps to anyone who uncovers wrongdoing and finds out that the organization does not react responsibly. Whistleblowing procedures are there to protect society from wrongdoing and to protect the good from the bad.
Transparency International organizes the Forum for the Whistleblower in Brussels on 26 April, 7-9:30 pm. Registration is free of charge but mandatory. The number of seats is limited. www.transparencybelgium.be
The author, Evert-Jan Lammers is a Partner at EBBEN and President of the Institute of Fraud Auditors and also a Board Member of Transparency International Belgium.