Note: this article, featuring our Legal Director Tom Devine, was originally published here.
‘Whistleblower Protection Must Be a Priority in the Act’
US Whistleblower Campaigner, Tom Devine, cautions Lawmakers
Days after President George Weah in his annual message has urged the 54th Legislature to consider the passage of several other bills, including the ‘Whistleblower and Witness Protection Bill’ still pending before the lawmakers, a US whistleblower campaigner says if the country will succeed following the passage of the bill, there is a need to critically look at the issues that have to do with whistleblower protection in the act.
Tom Devine, Legal Director of the US Government Accountability Project (GAP), said the protection of whistleblowers is one of the high priority areas that President Weah should focus on if he is interested in his government anti-corruption agenda.
Devine is in the county upon the invitation of the USAID-run Legal Professional Development & Anti-Corruption (LPAC) to help provide his expert opinions on the bill that is pending before the lawmakers for passage and also to explain about the importance of effective whistleblower laws and how to protect the discriminatory and retaliatory actions against whistleblowers who, in good faith, report suspected acts of corruption.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer at the LPAC office in Mamba Point, Monrovia, Devine explained that whistleblower protection is essential to encourage the reporting of misconduct, fraud, and corruption.
“The risk of corruption is significantly heightened in environments where the reporting of wrongdoing is not supported or protected,” the whistleblower expert disclosed.
However, Devine advised that passing the bill does not really mean that abuse of power or corruption will immediately disappear.
“It is just the first part of the journey because it will not immediately stop the abuse of power, but it is there to challenge the abuse of power and it is going to take a long time effort to turn the right into a reality,” Devine noted.
Devine also advised that the wording of the bill should be in clear and concise language and avoid ambiguity, because the ordinary people also need to understand the law.
He further recommended that the bill, if passed, should have in it a provision that people who will be involved be trained about the law.
“People who will be involved in whistleblowing need to be trained like judges themselves about what the law says because training makes the difference,” Devine said. According to him, whistleblowers facilitate the reporting of passive bribery, as well as the misuse of public funds, waste, fraud and other forms of corruption.
“Providing effective protection for whistleblowers supports an open organizational culture where employees are not only aware of how to report but also have confidence in the reporting procedures,” Devine added.
The protection of both public and private sector whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting in good faith suspected acts of corruption and other wrongdoing is therefore integral to efforts to combat corruption, promote public sector integrity and accountability, and support a clean business environment, Devine said.
Tom Devine is the Government Accountability Project’s Legal Director and has worked at the organization since 1979. Since that time, Tom has formally or informally assisted over 7,000 whistleblowers in defending themselves against retaliation and in making real differences on behalf of the public – such as shuttering accident-prone nuclear power plants, rebuffing industry ploys to deregulate government meat inspection, blocking the next generation of the bloated and porous “Star Wars” missile defense systems, instituting a national commercial milk testing program for illegal animal drugs; and sparking the withdrawal of dangerous prescription drugs such as Vioxx. He has not lost a case since 2006 and has prevailed in advocacy at numerous U.S. courts of appeals as well as the Supreme Court.
Tom has been a leader in the campaigns to pass or defend 34 national or international whistleblower laws, including nearly all in the U.S. federal law enacted over the last two decades. These include the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 for federal employees; thirteen breakthrough laws since 2002 creating the right to jury trials for corporate whistleblowers; the new European Union Whistleblower Directive creating free speech rights for all 28 member nations; as well as United Nations, Organization of American States, World Bank, and African Development Bank policies legalizing public freedom of expression for their own whistleblowers; and even national laws in nations such as Serbia.
He has traveled to 36 countries for whistleblower rights advocacy, including numerous speaking tours for the U.S. State Department that sparked its staff informally naming him the “Ambassador of Whistleblowing.” In that capacity, he has served as a technical expert for drafting or advocacy of 14 more whistleblower laws or policies in nations ranging from Liberia and Tunisia to Great Britain and Italy.
Tom has authored or co-authored numerous books, including 2011’s The Corporate Whistleblowers Survival Guide: A Handbook for Committing the Truth, which won the 2012 International Business Book of the Year Award at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Other publications include Courage Without Martyrdom: The Whistleblower’s Survival Guide; Caught Between conscience and Career: Expose Abuse Without Exposing Your Identity; chapters in numerous books, law review articles, magazine articles and newspaper op-eds; and is a frequent expert commentator on television and radio talk shows. Tom is the recipient of the “Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award” and the “Defender of the Constitution Award” bestowed by the Fund for Constitutional Government. In 2006 he was inducted into the Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame. Since 2012 he has been recognized annually by Washingtonian magazine as one of Washington DC’s top employment lawyers. He serves on the Board of Whistleblowing International Network, the global coalition which he helped to found.
Tom is a Phi Beta Kappa honors graduate of Georgetown University where he was an All American debater and captained the team that set a still-standing national record for tournament championships. He earned his J.D. from the Antioch School of Law, and sits on the board of the Disaster Accountability Project, as well as Whistleblowers International Network (WIN) which he helped found.