Collin Greenland, Contributor
THE CURRENT debate raging about Renée Anne Shirley, the former executive director of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO), who made startling revelations to the internationally renowned Sports Illustrated, has placed her in categories ranging from heroine to villainess.
Ms Shirley's disclosures of the "troubling" problems during her tenure as the top official at JADCO provide us with a good opportunity to revisit our knowledge and ideas, not only about the merits and demerits of whistle-blowing, but assist us to better assess the effects of her article.
Although whistle-blowers are usually associated with the exposure of more serious crimes such as fraud, treason, etc., in its simplest form, it is basically the act of reporting wrongdoing within an organisation to internal or external parties.
Wikipedia defines a whistleblower as an employee, former employee, or member of an organisation, especially a business or government agency, who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action.
Generally, the conduct is a violation of law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest. Fraud, health, safety violations, and corruption are just a few examples.
Historically, in the United States, Abraham Lincoln in 1863 legislated The False Claim Act, which was established to offer incentives to individuals who reported companies or individuals defrauding the government, and other regulations followed with each emphasising certain aspects of whistle-blowing. These included The Whistle-blower Protection Act: 1989 and 1994; Sarbabanes Oxley Requirements: 2002; and Supreme Court Decision (Garcetti v. Ceballos).
Examples of whistle-blowing related regulations in other jurisdictions include The Australian Public Service Act (Australia); The Data Protection Directive (European Union); The State Comptroller Law (Israel); The Anti-Corruption Act of 2001 (Korea); The Protected Disclosures Act (New Zealand), and The Public Interest Disclosure Act :1998 (UK).
In Jamaica, the stated objects of The Protected Disclosures Act 2011, fittingly called the 'Whistle-blower law,' to "facilitate and encourage the making, in a responsible manner, of disclosures of improper conduct, in the public interest; regulate the receiving, investigating, or otherwise dealing with disclosures of improper conduct; and protect employees who make specified disclosures from being subjected to occupational detriment."
Under the Protected Disclosures (Designated Authority) Order 2012, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (the Commission) was designated the authority with responsibility for monitoring compliance with the act.
Pros and cons of whistle-blowing
Opinions about whistle-blowing vary widely and range from those (such as Ralph Nader - consumer advocate) that see whistle-blowers as selfless martyrs for public interest and guardians of organisational accountability; to others (such as Peter Drucker - management Guru) who view them as snitches, rats, informers, solely pursuing personal glory and fame, and who have no dedication to organisational loyalty.
Those who argue the case for whistle-blowers claim in general that they are not only harmless and legal, but more beneficial when looked at on an overall basis.
Benefits include preventing (and/or detecting) corruption and crime (especially fraud), protecting investors, and protecting public interests. In Shirley's case, for example, was she protecting the public's interest?
The importance of whistle-blowing is recognised by organisations such as the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, who indicate, for example, that a significant number of frauds are discovered by way of a tip.
According to its 2012 study in particular, the extent was 43.3 per cent of reported cases. In fact, we vividly remember that some ethical whistle-blowers actually achieved celebrity status such as in January 2003 when Time Magazine named three whistle-blowers as 'Persons of the Year.' These were Cynthia Cooper (of WorldCom), Coleen Rowley (of the FBI), and Sherron Watkins (of Enron).
On the other hand, whistle-blowers detractors claim that news carriers are more shakedown artists than saints, and that the majority of whistle-blower lawsuits fail, wasting the time of corporate executives, judges, and government investigators.
In addition, disgruntled workers may use the law as blackmail against employers who feel compelled to settle even weak cases because of potentially harsh penalties and negative publicity surrounding suits.
Internal policies also can be used by employees to make malicious acts against other employees which can be time-consuming, expensive, disruptive, demotivating, demeaning, and counterproductive to investigate. Many view most whistle-blowers as unethical as they lack the seven essential elements stipulated by ethical whistle-blowing which are stated as:
1. Follow proper reporting guidelines;
2. Follow persistent disregarding of warning signals;
3. Stem from moral and ethical motives;
4. Aim to protect potential victims;
5. Aim to prevent national (or organisational) disasters;
6. Be based upon reliable figures and facts;
7. Be based upon verifiable supporting evidence. The question, therefore, is asked, did Anne Shirley follow these ethical guidelines?
Research on whistle-blowing reveal cultural differences among countries. For example, Jamaica is similar to other jurisdictions such as France, Germany, Canada and Australia, in which employees are less likely to report unethical/fraudulent acts because of historical and cultural reasons. Similar to the emotional scars left in France and Germany by the Hitler regime that made good use of 'informers', Jamaica's colourful slavery and industrial relations history have made 'informers' very unpopular locally, even among persons with nothing to hide.
The unpleasantness of termination, demotions, ruined credibility or reputation, outrage from people involved (directly or indirectly), the jeopardising of health or family or life, physical or psychological isolation and incarceration, all contribute to whistle-blowing unpopularity in Jamaica.
Did Anne Shirley, therefore, act as a selfless martyr who heroically exposed JADCO's deficiencies internationally for public interest, and will force the Government going forward to be better guardians of that organisation's accountability.
On the other hand, was she a disgruntled former worker who unethically pursued personal whistle-blowing glory and fame, shunning national loyalty that resulted in damage to JADCO and, by extension, Jamaica's reputation irreparably? Heroine or villainess?
Collin Greenland is a forensic accountant. Send feedback to email@example.com.