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The need for whistleblowers to be protected by law and authorities

By Ghui

The relentless growth of capitalism and large corporations has had far reaching effects in job creation and globalisation. While there are certainly many benefits that stem from this, it has also led to the rise of undesirable side effects such as corruption and greed.

When there are large sums of money to be made, there may be the increased temptation to abuse processes and procedures so as to reap personal gain. Many a time, the perpetrators of such corruption would be in positions of power whereby they can benefit from not just the added information they would possess by virtue of their elevated positions of power but also by their ability to intimidate or bribe others from spilling the beans.

While Singapore generally enjoys a reputation of being corruption free, it is certainly not immune. In recent years, quite a number of high flyers in government related agencies have been done for corruption.

In many of these cases, it would appear that the perpetrators have been abusing their positions of power for years without being caught. Is this because their co workers did not suspect the offences or is it because no one dared to speak up due to fear?

Singapore is not a country well known for investigative journalism. Journalists are not encouraged to dig around for news. Indeed, there have been reports and rumours of OB* markers put in place by the mainstream media over certain topics. Independent bloggers such as Roy Ngerng, who have sought to do their own digging at sensitive topics, have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

If journalists are not able to fulfil the role of exposing corrupt individuals, it is left to those who unwittingly find themselves a part of corruption to expose all. However, if such a whistle blower is faced with the prospect of losing his or her own livelihood, he or she may never speak up which will in turn lead to many more years of abuse.

In many cases of corruption, it is the public that suffers. Take for instance, the recent damaged tracks that were imported by the SMRT. The danger that this could potentially have caused to thousands of commuters were kept secret from Singaporeans and it was the work of foreign journalists that actually exposed this boo boo. (Read report by FactWire here)

In order for the faux pas to have been covered up, a large number of employees would have to have been involved. Were they comfortable with the secrecy? Did they want to come forward? We shall never know.

However, a lack of adequate protection for the whistle blower would not have been an incentive for employees to come forward especially if they would be faced with the sack and no legal redress.

Most Multi National Corporations (MNCs) and government agencies would have company policies on whistle blowing. However; these are just company policies that do not have the bite of the law. Company policies are managed and controlled by employees of the company who may themselves fear rocking the boat. To ensure that the whistle blower feels entirely safe to tell the whole truth, there needs to be a framework of legislation imposed on top of company policies.

Currently in Singapore, there is no specific legislation in place to tackle whistle blowing. Everything is left to the discretion of the police, the courts and the whistle blower, him/herself.

If a potential whistle blower faces the prospect of losing his job, why is there an incentive to come forward? This then risks becoming an endless cycle of silence and cover up that can have detrimental effects on the public.

In a country whereby the press is somewhat timid, the desire and motivations of individuals to ensure that the scourge of corruption is limited is all the more important. It is therefore of crucial importance that utmost is done to ensure that a potential whistle blower is protected by the power of the law.

*Out of Bounds

Also read – Defamation, a tool to hide the truth and “beat” whistle-blowers into submission?

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A whistleblower, Mr Tan and his family were put through a great deal of stress and fear after he reported on a crime by Elcarim Petroleum after Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) revealed his identity to the company during the trial. His name, IC number and address were included in a document which was used in the case.

The 52-year-old witnessed a crime in August 2011 where a Singapore company Elcarim Petroleum loaded unrecovered waste oil in one of their motor tankers at Tanjong Kling Road.

He subsequently made a police report the same month and, as a result, Elcarim Petroluem was convicted in January 2012 of breaching Regulation 7 of the MPA (dangerous goods, petroleum and explosives) Regulations.

Shortly after the conclusion of the court proceedings, Mr Tan and his family began suffering harassment at home.

He had bicycle chains attached to his metal gate, locking his family in. His potted plants were smashed and he had paint splashed on his door and windows on several occasions.

Mr Tan also claimed that he received phone calls in the middle of the night cursing and swearing at him.

MPA replied in their defence that Mr Tan should have known that he would not be kept anonymous when he first filed the police report on the criminal activity he had witnessed.

MPA claims that because Mr Tan had gone to the police and not given the information directly to MPA, there “could not have been any agreement of confidentiality”.

MPA added that Mr Tan should have known that he could be named in court since the police “may be duty-bound” to give the details of the first information reports to the accused, if asked.

In a nutshell, MPA is disclaiming responsibility for all the suffering that Mr Tan and his family have gone through.

Should Mr Tan have kept quiet and acted as if he heard and saw nothing since he had absolutely nothing to gain from his “heroic” act?

Read- “MPA hangs whistle-blower out to dry?

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