Those who are brave enough to expose corruption, fraud and similar criminal deeds should enjoy a privileged status in any society especially the one where corruption and fraud are seen as major stumbling blocks of economic prosperity and opportunity for individuals to progress in life on their merit and positive contribution to society. In Croatia, whistleblowers have exposed more crimes of corruption, fraud and breaches of laws and regulations oiled by bribery than the police or any government run institution in the fight against corruption/crime but often allegations of corruption have gathered dust in various drawers, unattended. In Croatia, whistleblowers still do not enjoy the protection they deserve and most are ostracised as some kind of “social lepers”, lose their jobs and their families suffer.
So it is no wonder that like in many countries of the world whistleblowers in Croatia have been organising themselves into associations, clubs and the like, particularly in the larger cities.
Effective whistleblower programs can have a real impact on the quality of corporate governance but there is no doubt that there is a plethora of cases where those who have had the courage to come forward, have suffered adversely because of direct retaliation or lack of action by government and/or regulators.
During her presidential election campaign Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic had announced that she would, if elected, form the Whistleblowers office/unit attached to the Office of the President. Into the second month of her presidency her office has mid-March 2015 announced that the President will soon, within weeks, establish a Whistleblowers unit attached to her office.
And while organising such an office President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has, according to news reports, on 24 March 2015 named Vesna Balenovic as her adviser for whistleblowers.
Vesna Balenovic is a well-known whistleblower, and fighter for whistleblower rights in Croatia who had suffered terrible ordeals after having exposed corruption in INA, Croatia’s leading oil company some fifteen years ago (the same company in which the former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader had delved corruptly and is currently serving a prison sentence for the corruption).
Protection laws and regulations for whistleblowers exist in many countries but Croatia lags far behind. The US Whistleblower protection laws consist of number of Federal and State rules and regulations. They have proved to be effective in most cases in providing legal protection for employees (from both public and private sectors) who call attention to violations, help with enforcement proceedings etc.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of the Whistleblower has been formed and appointed to reward those whistleblowers that report violations in relation to breaches of federal securities laws; a similar ‘bounty’ program has been introduced by Internal Revenue service (US taxation office) to reward reporters of tax frauds. This has been done in order to encourage people (employees) to submit their tips – to blow the whistle on violations and violators.
The UK is fortunate to have The Public Interest Disclosure Act, a single, comprehensive Whistleblower protection law that provides protection to both public and private sector whistleblowers. It was introduced in 1998 and amended in 2013. This Act has its origins in the numerous financial scandals that may have been avoided if employees had been provided an opportunity to report wrongdoing.
Employees in the European Union enjoy some whistleblowing protection as part of the ruling made by The European Court of Human Rights in 2011, but only a handful of European countries have actually introduced laws to protect whistleblowers.
There is a research based consensus that there is a definite link between the number of whistleblowing reports and the existence of comprehensive and effective whistleblower protections laws in a country. Even without a comprehensive national piece of whistleblower legislation in place, implementing internal whistleblower programs within companies brings about whistleblower protection and minimise damage to the life of the whistleblower while it increases the common good for all employees and the company as a whole.
Whistleblowers are not protected in Croatia and there is an absolute need for processes that will change the perception towards whistleblowers or those brave enough to point to violations at work wherever they occur but always signify likely practices of corruption, fraud and the like. It’s important to change the perception at levels of society so that whistleblowers are not seen as snitches but rather courageous and respected persons and, equally, they need strong and multifaceted protection from retaliation and revenge. The latter can best be achieved through legislation that includes compulsory practices for employers to include whistleblower protection measures within their own local working environment. That is, in Croatia, a safe reporting channel or process in which the whistleblower is protected from the potentially corrupt surrounds as well as from the media while and until investigations into the alleged violations are completed must be secured.
It’s a proven fact around the world that successful reports of violations have positive effects and outcomes in that they lead to new reports of violations and raise significantly the level of applied accountability. Hence, it’s not difficult to fathom that a government system open to fighting and reducing corruption also has a strong ally in the “whistleblower”.
Besides protecting the whistleblower, legislation and regulations addressing whistleblower protections can and do also serve as agents of perception change and are strong positively motivating forces that tell the citizens that the government expects from them to be conscientious, responsible and vigilant part of the society.
On a state level, the proposed bill on whistleblower protection was drafted in Croatia in late 2013 and was to go through the parliament procedure within a year. As far as my research into the matter shows nothing has occurred on this front so far. Although the ex-president of Croatia Ivo Josipovic is reported as having been one of the major initiators to have whistleblower protection regulated by legislation he did nothing apart from the lip service for the cause, which leads one to think there really was no decisive will to see it through. Thankfully, Croatia has a new president in Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic who is not about to wait around for the incompetent government in the parliament to see some serious advancement on the issue of whistleblower protection and/or giving the cause determined support. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)