On Wednesday, we celebrated the World Whistleblowing Day.
Writing about whistleblowers in 2020, we no longer feel a dictionary definition is needed. Earlier this year, an anonymous intelligence analyst made headlines around the world for reporting something suspicious they observed at work, subsequently triggering the impeachment of the United States president.
Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Sergey Magnitsky are just the best-known of the many people who have risked everything to do the right thing and challenge the status quo against all odds.
It’s rarely been clearer that calling out wrongdoing and exposing the truth can save lives.
Whistleblowers have saved countless lives and billions in public finances. Yet all too often, they face retaliation from their employers, leading to dismissal, as well as legal challenges, attacks on their reputation and even physical harm.
Dozens of cases of mismanagement and corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that citizens need accurate information about the dangers they face.
In China, when doctor Li Wenliang spoke up about COVID-19, he saved countless lives by giving nations around the world the chance to prepare for the pandemic. Initially, Chinese authorities punished Doctor Li, a reaction from authorities that is all too common.
Whistleblowers sometimes risk their careers, livelihood, liberty or even their lives to get information out, as Li Wenliang did, the doctor in China who tried to warn colleagues about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fortunately, some whistleblower stories have a happier ending.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – where most of the world’s second largest rainforest lies – a director of the ministry managing forests alleged in 2009 that the secretary general of the ministry had diverted around US$38 million from a forest protection programme.
This led to the dismissal of the secretary general and stronger safeguards on the programme’s funds. The authorities’ early response, however, was to arrest the whistleblower – although Transparency International’s DRC chapter helped successfully secure his freedom.
Two years ago, the largest corruption scandal in Spain’s democratic history forced the government to fall. Known as the “Gürtel” case, the scandal led to the conviction of many senior politicians and several businesspeople.
Bribes paid in return for local and regional government contracts were revealed by the former public servant Ana Garrido Ramos. She discovered a nationwide network of corruption, which she helped to stop by presenting a 300-page dossier to the authorities. She suffered threats and intimidation, but courageously exposed the truth and helped protect taxpayer money.
Ana Garrido Ramos | Anti-Corruption Award Winner 2018
Externally hosted content may include ads. These aren't endorsed by or reflect Transparency International's views.
Do you see a pattern emerging here?
The rule of law depends on the bravery of whistleblowers, yet in exchange for their heroic acts they often face job loss, lawsuits and even physical attacks.
There is an increasing recognition around the world that whistleblowers are key to safeguarding our democracies. In the European Union, for example, life is getting safer for those who come forward.
Until now, Europeans have lived with widely varying levels of whistleblower protection. The new directive encourages people to speak out against wrongdoing that might otherwise go undetected, helping uphold fair play and integrity – so all of society benefits.
Others are not so fortunate.
We will continue to campaign for all countries around the world to encourage and protect whistleblowers, including through adopting robust and comprehensive legislation.
Once the laws are fixed, they need to be effectively enforced in both the public and private sectors – so that to help save funds, the planet or lives, individuals do not have to make the incredible sacrifices that they need to today.
This is a copy of our weekly newsletter. Would you like to stay on top of anti-corruption developments? Subscribe to our updates.