Georgia improves whistleblower provisions but more changes needed
Whistleblowers play an important role in eliminating corruption as they help uncover the illicit activity which can otherwise be extremely difficult to detect.
Due to the risks associated with the act of whistleblowing, many countries have implemented extensive whistleblower protection safeguards. In order to ensure that a whistleblower has options for disclosure, protecting anonymity, and providing compensation in case of retaliation regulations for securing whistleblower protection have evolved to the point of adopting free-standing laws instead of incorporating provision in sectoral laws, covering public and private sectors and increasing channels of reporting. Limited provisions on whistleblower protection adopted in Georgia’s legislation in 2009 had significant loopholes with regards to securing effective whistleblower protection.
Recent amendments to the Law on the Conflict of Interests and Corruption in Public Service aims at improving whistleblower protection. Amendments provide for significant improvement over previous provisions, which offered limited channels of reporting and did not stress the importance of anonymity among other discrepancies. Newly adopted changes address these key issues and serve as a step towards creating a safe environment for preventing corruption in public service.
The positive changes in the direction of effective whistleblower protection:
- Improved definition: The amendments to the law provide broader definition of whistleblowing, which covers not only the act of disclosing already committed violations in public service, but potential violations as well. Additionally, the definition of a whistleblower is extended also to cover former employees.
- Presumption of integrity: According to new provisions, a report filed by an individual regarding a violation in public service is presumed to be honest until proven otherwise.
- Channels of reporting: New regulations provide additional external entities where the reports can be filed including the Office of the Prosecutor, Public Defender and other investigative agencies. Whistleblower can also utilize media and civil society organizations for disseminating information.
- Broader protection: The amendments to the law broadened the scope of the protection to include protection of whistleblower’s relatives.
- Anonymity: Changes to the law guarantee anonymity of the whistleblower, unless he/she wishes otherwise.
Even though the newly adopted amendments are an improvement from previous provisions, below are a few recommendations for future steps towards a more effective whistleblower protection in Georgia:
- Scope of protection: Considering the fact that the provisions on whistleblower protection are a part of the Law on the Conflict of Interests and Corruption in Public Office, the scope of the protection is limited to public servants. Such a limitation implies that the protection does not extend to contractors, volunteers, trainees, temporary workers, and etc. International standards for whistleblower protection advocate for an increased scope of protection, good examples of which can be found in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ghana.
- External channels of reporting: The new regulations stress that an individual can disclose a case to media and civil society organizations in 2 months after the Public Defender, Prosecutor, investigator, or internal agency responsible for the review of the cases makes a decision. The concern is that 2 months might be a long period in cases where a filed report needs urgent attention from the media and the public, or when other external or internal entities to not react promptly.
- Compensation: International practice highlights the importance of a safety net for those whistleblowers who might lose their job due to the act of disclosure, and can be left financially vulnerable due to retaliation. Foreseeing such scenario and having an effective remedy decreases the fear of retaliation and increases the likelihood that cases of corruption in public service will be regularly disclosed.