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LETTER OF THE DAY - Public education needed on whistle-blower law

Published:Thursday | July 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

Finally, the draft Protected Disclosure Act (whistle-blower law) 2010 is before a joint select parliamentary committee. This is a significant step forward and discussion about the legislation has a legitimate place on the growing menu of reform agenda items which have emerged from the recent events related to extradition requests, anti-crime bills, campaign financing and law and order, generally speaking.

It is critical that for so important a matter, that there be effective leadership to inform and educate the public about this piece of legislation. Whistle-blowing is as much about blowing a whistle, as Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) is about commercial banks treating customers as potential money launderers. Whistle-blowing is not just about protecting informers or snitches; just as POCA is not just about probing one's source of income. Like POCA, whistle-blowing is about exposing crime. It is serious business.

A whistle-blower is a person who exposes wrongdoing that is taking place in an organisation, or raises concern about some breach of conduct classified as violation of law, regulation or rule that can be a threat to the public interest, e.g. fraud, tax evasion, price-fixing, corruption, occupational safety violations.

And like all crimes, the impact extends beyond the company, organisation or the government. It reaches to and affects us all as entrepreneurs, as investors, as consumers, as employees, as citizens. Hence, we are all stakeholders in this matter and the widest possible public-education efforts should be undertaken to inform the citizenry, and cause the best insights and considerations to be presented to the joint select committee.

Whistle-blowers need protection

Romantic notions about whistle-blowers abound. The truth is that whistle-blowers need protection under the law as they often face hostility, abuse and threats. Many who choose to blow the whistle never recover from the experience. A US study reveals that 50 to 66 per cent lose their jobs. Many lose their homes and often end up in financial ruin. Some are 'rewarded' with broken family relationships; some suffer depression and descend into alcoholism and various forms of drug abuse.

As a primer, I recommend the book Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organisational Power by C. Fred Alford. I also recommend the December 2002 issue of TIME magazine which featured three female whistleblowers as the 2002 Persons of the Year.

As stakeholders, let our voices be heard so that what emerges as law will be a useful and effective piece of legislation that addresses the important issues. Let us not allow the parliament to pass an insipid and useless piece of legislation, not now, not at this tipping-point opportunity that has been granted to Jamaica.

I am, etc.,