Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Protecting Whisleblowers

Six weeks ago, Vivek alerted us that the draft Public Services Bill was online, and available for comments from the public. In particular, he noted that it contained certain provisions meant to protect whistleblowers in government. Two weeks later, he bemoaned the apathy when his readers (including me) didn't seem to take his request seriously:

One of the ways in which the country can have more people like Manjunath Shanmugam and Satyendra Dubey (and keep them alive), is to have Whistleblower Protection in place.

What is the most important feature of the draft Public Services Bill?

Chapter VII - Protection to Whistleblowers.

While we are full of talking about Manjunath and Satyendra, we are not really doing anything about it. There is the “kathni”, and then there is the “karni”. And there is a big gap between the two.

That is why I am bothered.

I have to admit that I am among those who did nothing -- aside from linking to his post over at DesiPundit. The reason is simple: the Bill, as it stands now, is a series of statements of intent. For example, take a look at the section on protecting the whistleblowers. It has just three provisions:

  1. It shall be the duty of the government to put in place, within a period of 6 months from the commencement of this Act, mechanisms to protect public servants who report suspected improper governance actions in their workplace.
  2. No person shall be victimized or discriminated against for reporting improper practices or acts or breaches of the provisions of this Act.
  3. Any person bringing to light wrongdoings in the workplace, which are in contravention of the provisions of this Act, shall be given protection under this Act.

As statements of intent, there's nothing exceptionable about any of these, is there? What more can someone with no 'domain knowledge' say? I don't know. This appears to be something lawyers, officers' associations and employees' unions would want to weigh in on. Maybe they are doing it through their preferred forums; but, I haven't seen much commentary, except for the two pieces that Vivek himself had linked to. Today, I found this op-ed in the Economic Times by Raghu Dayal, who gives a brief history of the US law on whistleblowers, along with some of its provisions :

Whistleblowing is a distinct form of dissent. Citizens in the US blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse more than anywhere else in the world. Whistleblowing is not for the faint of heart. The burden of proof to show reasonable cause devolves overwhelmingly on the whistleblower. In the US, whistleblowing is also encouraged by statute as an ethical duty.

In 1980, a code of ethics for government service (PL 96-303) was unanimously passed by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. On October 8, 1994, Congress acted to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act. The amendments they passed plugged holes, improved procedures, and provided additional safeguards for whistleblowers.

After the spectacular collapse of Enron and WorldCom, US Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, granting sweeping legal protection to whistleblowers in publicly-traded companies. Anyone retaliating against a corporate whistleblower can now be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on whistleblowers. Here's a US government site with some information (but I'm not able to wade through all that legalese). As and when the government acts on its "duty ... to put in place ... mechanisms to protect public servants...", we will have some way of comparing the provisions of Indian laws with those of the US.

Does anyone have any ideas about what kind of protection is extended to whistleblowers in other countries -- UK, Canada, Australia? Do you know of articles that explain -- in simple language -- how these provisions stack up?