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Our View: Law to protect whistleblowers is just half the battle

Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou

JUSTICE minister Ionas Nicolaou told a conference organised by Transparency International that the government has prepared a bill designed to protect whistleblowers as part of the efforts to combat corruption. “The idea of the whistleblower can become a catalyst for this, but so far Cyprus has no specific legislation to protect complainants when it comes to transgressions either in the public or in the private sectors,” said Nicolaou.

The law is a positive step indeed as it offers legal protection to an individual, because so far the government has proved unwilling to protect whistleblowers even in the public sector which it controls. The case of the man in charge of the CTO’s Vienna office was a stark example of the government’s unwillingness to protect whistleblowers. He had submitted documents and data to the presidential palace and the Auditor-general’s office on how his Nicosia-based manager had been squandering CTO funds, but he was offered no protection by anyone.

Instead, the senior manager at the centre of the allegations decided to close the CTO’s Vienna office which meant the whistleblower, who was on a contract, would no longer have a job. Even the decision to close the Vienna office which successfully covered central Europe was unjustified, but it was not questioned by the CTO board or the Tourism ministry. All that happened was that the senior manager was put in charge of two other CTO departments as a reward for his self-serving decisions.

Nobody thought of defending the whistleblower, who had put his job on the line in order to alert the authorities to the squandering of public funds. Worse still, the CTO did not even bother conducting an investigation into the allegations that one of its senior managers was mismanaging the organisation’s money. As for the uncompromising Auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides, he did not bother to investigate the allegations, despite having publicly claimed there had been scandalous goings-on at the CTO.

In short, when the powers that be decide a cover-up as in the case of the CTO, the protection of the whistleblower would make little difference. The law might make it more difficult for an employer to sack a whistleblower as it would allow the latter to go to court and claim compensation, but we doubt it would help combat corruption. Authorities committed to combating corruption would not have allowed a senior manager, at the centre of serious allegations of mismanaging public funds, to sack the whistleblower and sweep the issue under the carpet.

Laws protecting whistleblowers will not combat corruption, as Nicolaou seems to believe, when the authorities do not have resolve to do anything about it.

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