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Mum is the word - Jamaicans are no whistle-blowers

Published:Tuesday | March 10, 2015 | 5:43 PMLivern Barrett

JAMAICANS HAVE chosen to remain silent rather than use whistle-blower legislation to report improper conduct, whether in the public or private sector.

Almost three years after the legislation - properly called the Protected Disclosures Act - was enacted, Dr Omar Hawthorne, lecturer in the Department of Government at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), revealed yesterday that no one has come forward to make a formal report.

That assertion was later confirmed by the Corruption Prevention Commission (CPC), the agency responsible for enforcing the act.

Hawthorne, who was speaking in Kingston at the first-ever fraud and anti-corruption conference put on by the Office of the Contractor General, disclosed that the nation's high unemployment rate, the risk of criminal prosecution, and distrust for national institutions were among the factors that have prevented persons from coming forward.

These findings, she said, were based on research she conducted for her presentation using some of her classes at the UWI.

fearful of reprisal

While noting that the legislation seeks to protect employees from retaliation for possibly exposing improper conduct, Hawthorne said a predominant theme in the surveys conducted was that persons were fearful of reprisal from their employers.

"The live reality for many Jamaicans is that I would rather keep my job today rather than blow the whistle on illegal activities within a company where I work," she continued.

Another 'conundrum' for prospective whistle-blowers, Hawthorne noted, was that they could face criminal prosecution in cases where the information disclosed was illegally obtained. Explaining, she said where a document that is labelled 'secret' or 'confidential' is passed to a higher authority or the media, "then technically you are committing a crime in trying to prevent a broader crime or fraud within an organisation.

"If you disclose information that you access illegally, you are technically committing a crime in order to prevent the greater good for the society. So that's the conundrum that people find themselves in," she explained.

"So an individual will find him or herself in a predicament where, even if and when I want to do good, I will still think of the notion that I am committing a criminal act," Hawthorne reasoned.

The UWI lecturer praised Jamaica's whistle-blower legislation as one of the best of its kind globally, but said based on her research, not many Jamaicans are even aware of it.

She blamed this on the absence of any public-education initiative since lawmakers passed the legislation in 2011.

"We haven't had any public-awareness campaigns or an advertisement to sensitise the public on this particular legislation," she claimed.