Posted on 7 April 2016
Blowing the whistle on co-workers for suspected corruption has never been easy. There is often little incentive for potential whistleblowers to do so: fear of retaliation, a sub optimal legal framework and lack of confidence in the institutions handling the complaints are major deterrents to whistleblowing.
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) comes in handy when introducing and upgrading protection systems for whistleblowers and witnesses. The UNCAC differentiates between measures to protect witnesses, experts, victims, and cooperating offenders. It contains provisions for to protect witnesses in a criminal proceeding on the one hand (Articles 32 and 37), and measures for reporting persons more generally on the other (article 33 - see also the UNODC Resource Guide on Good Practices in the Protection of Reporting Person ).
Whistleblowers are a vital source of information that could unveil corruption. As the PwC Global Economic Crime Survey points out, 50% of fraud cases in the public sector in 2010 were uncovered by whistleblowing, and 31% of corporate frauds in the private sector were disclosed thanks to tip-offs.
However, practices for the protection of reporting persons are relevant not only for their detective purpose, but also in a prevention perspective: protection of whistleblowers can be a deterrent for wrongdoers, as it reduces their capacity to rely on the silence of those around them. Safeguards for whistleblowers is therefore an important step in creating an organizational environment that is more resistant to corruption. Indeed, corruption flourishes when those who misbehave believe they can rely on the silence of those around them.
How are countries in Southeast Asia performing with respect to the protection of reporting persons? A national assessment on countries' performance in applying Articles 32 and 33 of the UNCAC has been conducted in the context of the first cycle of the review process. The outcome should help in strengthening existing good practices and identifying gaps that need to be filled (the review has been completed for 9 out of 11 countries, the remaining two, Myanmar and Thailand, are currently in the final stage). Most countries in the region lack general measures affording protection to persons reporting on corruption cases. Some countries (Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Vietnam) have laws that guarantee the protection of witnesses, but whistleblowers' protection is not being addressed. Other countries have only taken some initial steps: for example, in Brunei Darussalam only the identity of an informer is protected. In some cases (for instance, in Vietnam) the review highlighted a misunderstanding as to the concept of protection of reporting persons.
Malaysia is the country with the most comprehensive legislative framework on the topic, granting protection to both witnesses and whistleblowers and criminalizing all detrimental actions against whistleblowers. However, even in countries where whistleblower protection laws do exist (Cambodia and Malaysia), the review pointed at the need of conducting capacity building programmes for authorities responsible of managing protection systems, given the recent adoption of such measures. More detailed information on individual countries is available in country reports.
In order to help State parties with their full compliance in this area, the UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and Pacific is organizing a Regional Capacity Workshop on Promoting the Effective Protection of Witnesses and Reporting Persons in Corruption Cases in Bangkok, Thailand, on 26-27 April 2016. The aim of the workshop is to identify the main challenges countries are currently facing in applying Articles 32 and 33 of the Convention, and to highlight examples of effective practices for whistleblower and witness protection. The event will engage 50 policymakers and experts from anti-corruption agencies, and prosecutors, as well as the judiciary, from across Southeast Asia and beyond.
Keep following our page to discover the opinions and recommendations that experts in the region will share during this event and feel free to share your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #endsilence.