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Our View: New law unlikely to protect whistleblowers from people who want to harm them

A few weeks ago, the legislature approved law that will protect whistleblowers. Under the law, private and public organisations as well as public authorities have a legal obligation to safeguard a whistleblower’s anonymity and also ensure they do not divulge any information that can be used to identify the person reporting an irregularity. It is a criminal offence to renege on the obligation to protect whistleblower’s anonymity, according to the new law.

It was ironic that in the meantime, two cars belonging to the family of a senior official at the Road Transport Department, parked outside his house, were set ablaze in what police described as an arson attack. The official had provided information related to the importing of damaged luxury cars by certain individuals, who registered them as ‘almost new’. This was in violation of department rules, which oblige importers to declare if a car had been involved in a crash.

The official who uncovered the scam and became the subject of the intimidation tactics was not a whistleblower. He was just a public employee doing his job conscientiously and had asked for his identity to be protected when he reported the case, but quite clearly it was not. Someone at the department or a police officer involved in the investigation of the case, that has been going on for five months, must have revealed his identity to people who wanted to frighten him or exact some form of revenge.

It might not be against any law to reveal the identity of a public official in charge of a case file, as he or she does not qualify as a whistleblower, but there is something deeply worrying about the ease with which such an official can be intimidated. In a tiny country like Cyprus it is very easy to find out the identity of officials, where they live and where their children go to school. And if they don’t want to go as far as intimidation, a relative or friend to exert influence on them can be found.

Neither officials nor potential whistleblowers enjoy the anonymity that is taken for granted in big countries. This is why it is almost impossible to have a witness protection programme in Cyprus – the place is too small and nobody can hide for long. It is very easy for criminals to intimidate and bully officials, police and ordinary people, which is one of the reasons law enforcement is not as effective as we would like it to be. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this problem. Whistleblowers might be protected from being sacked or penalised by their employer but what protection does the law offer them from people whose interests, they may have harmed?


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