IDEAS: Whistleblowers Protection Act too weak to protect public


Source: FMT News

IDEAS CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan - Pic from FMT News

IDEAS CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan – Pic from FMT News

PETALING JAYA: The extremely low number of whistleblowers coming forward to report on any wrongdoings in this country is due to weaknesses in the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010, says IDEAS chief executive officer Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

Referring to a new policy paper titled “A critical look into the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010” presented by IDEAS board member and past president of the Malaysian Bar Christopher Leong, the think tank chief said there are severe gaps in what should be reported and what is currently being reported in the country.

“Many experts can agree that whistleblowing is one of the best ways to discover corruption. In countries like the US, as much as 46% of fraud cases were discovered due to whistleblowers.

“However, in Malaysia, the numbers are extremely low. Only 28 out of 8,953 complaints made to the MACC in 2012 were by whistleblowers. This is approximately 0.3% of cases,” Wan Saiful said in a statement.

Whistleblowing is the act of exposing information on illegal or unethical activities within an organisation.

In his paper, Leong reviews the gaps in the Whistleblower Act 2010 (WPA 2010) and argues for legal reforms to improve whistleblower protection and facilitation.

To this, Wan Saiful said the weakness in the law is evident with sections in the WPA 2010 failing to provide adequate protections to whistleblowers and in some cases even discourage whistleblowing.

“Individuals that report information that fall under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for example, can get charged with a RM1 million fine or imprisonment of up to one year or both.

“But public servants and lawmakers who are privy to more sensitive information should be encouraged to highlight cases of fraud or corruption instead of being punished.”

Worse, he said, was the need for the minister (though the act does not specify which portfolio) to decide if any action needs to be taken by the enforcement agency, such as the police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission or the Securities Commission.

“It is a major setback to the act on the level of executive control over whistleblower protection. The act gives the minister complete power to direct the enforcement agency’s actions in carrying out this act.

“However, this is completely contradictory to the purpose of the act, which is to help expose misconduct in public officials,” Wan Saiful said, in recommending that the act be amended to have an independent body, like an ombudsman, manage the whistleblowing process.

He said, this body could also act as a one-stop point for whistleblowers instead of whistleblowers having to go to the specific enforcement agencies.

Having an independent one-stop point could also make up for the harshness of WPA2010 which currently does not allow whistleblowers to speak to third parties like lawyers, employers or civil society.

“The law allows for whistleblowers to only report cases directly to enforcement agencies.

“Considering, the immense amount of stress faced by witnesses, the act has to consider the needs of the whistleblower. An individual may be more comfortable speaking to their personal lawyer as opposed to a public authority.

“In the UK, Australia and many other countries, it is common for whistleblowers to report cases to the media or to a policy maker. These individuals are still protected under the law unlike in Malaysia,” Wan Saiful said.