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Opposition mounts to whistle-blower law

Published:Saturday | July 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

Government ministers will be the persons to receive and deal with certain disclosures on corrupt activities from whistle-blowers.

The draft whistle-blower act, which sets out clear procedures for reporting certain offences, proposes that issues which could prejudice national security, defence or international relations must be reported by whistle-blowers to the respective minister or the prime minister.

"The prime minister and each minister referred to shall establish and cause to be operated procedures for receiving investigating or otherwise dealing with disclosures," the bill proposes.

However, Opposition Senator K.D. Knight opined that it would be unwise for Parliament to agree to give blanket power to politicians.

Added he: "In some jurisdictions, the minister's responsibility is not as separated as in ours and this is almost the rejoining of operations and policy. I am most unhappy."

Albert Edwards, the chief parliamentary counsel, acknowledged that the matter could be problematic.

"Matters of policy have been raised which would have to be considered further," he said.

Meanwhile, Clive Mullings, member of parliament for West Central St James, pointed to another potentially discomforting aspect of the potential legislation.

He argued that a provision which allows employers to determine whether there is merit to a report made by an employee would defeat the intention of the bill.

Dr Eileen Boxhill, a senior legal officer in the attorney general office, told the committee that there is provision in the bill to address a case in which an employer may have exercised a veto power. She said that person is not left without remedy, as the employee can then go to another level.

However, Mullings argued that an employee, having unsuccessfully made a complaint, may not bother to pursue another route, thus allowing corruption to thrive.

Mullings said that though another route exists, the fact is that the employer may have exercised veto power as a deterrent to whistle-blowers disclosing information on corruption.

The proposed act requires all employers, including volunteer organisations, to establish procedures to accept disclosures from whistle-blowers. There are no penalties for failing to put this framework in place.