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SERGEJUS MURAVJOVAS – WE HAVE TO PROTECT WHISTLEBLOWERS

We asked Sergejus Muravjovas, CEO of Transparency International Lithuania to share his experience with whistleblowing. He is one of the speakers at Whistleblowing Conference which is planned in autumn.

.What are your thoughts on whistleblowing? Could you give any arguments on why people should whistleblow?

Whistleblowing can be a powerful tool that helps people learn about various concerns. Otherwise, people often would not have a chance to know about such  issues as sexual harassment, abuse of power in office, corruption, or some other type wrongdoing.

Yet, I sincerely hope that most people are not faced with a dilemma whether they should blow a whistle or not. Blowing a whistle must be a difficult decision to make since it is an act which will often be frowned upon by the whistleblower’s superiors and misconstrued by the colleagues. This could mean that whistleblowers face risk not only themselves but also create problems for their loved ones. So, when someone asks me to give any arguments on why people should blow a whistle, I would say that people usually do so when they know that something wrong is happening and they just cannot stand it. For the sake of public interest and the common good, it is something that must be known. However, I think it is the responsibility of companies’ managers to make sure that it never really has to come down to someone blowing the whistle.

Any law on whistleblower protection, any type of regulation involving whistleblowers serves as a reminder for managers to make sure that they deal with their colleagues in a more professional manner. Managers need to be more empathic, listen to the concerns that their colleagues raise, and ensure that people can provide feedback in a safe manner inside the organization.

This is key when people speak about whistleblowers and their protection, because clearly when people have such guidelines in place and when people have organizations performing to their best standard, then there would be fewer people who would need to become whistleblowers. So, that is why I emphasize prevention so much. At the end of the day, when people blow the whistle, wrongdoing often has already happened.

How would you define a whistleblower?

I propose not to think about whistleblowers through a definition that one can easily find in legislation. I think whistleblowers are unlike most people. They are brave, often have a very high regard for the truth and are unique in many ways. They are prepared to go through many hardships and a lot of uncomfortable moments to get their message across; it might be a mistake to assume that everybody can do that.

However, I think when people speak about whistleblowers, they usually think of those high-profile cases that we all have heard about; but at the end of the day, a lot of people also report about wrongdoing on a regular basis. Those cases and reports are not labeled as whistleblowing cases.

Generally, any society should encourage people to give feedback and have critical conversations about public service provisions and the working atmosphere inside of an organization. For example, probably all of us have encountered issues with municipal services. People living in a multi-story building – when their staircase is not clean – could decide to call and speak with the building supervisor to make sure that the next time the staircase is cleaned properly. These might be very small things, but that is how it all starts, and to me that is just as important as ensuring that people can blow the whistle regarding much larger concerns.

Are there certain things you do during your work time that raise awareness about whistleblowing?

I work at Transparency International Lithuania. We are a public advocacy team, so we work on these issues professionally. For many years we worked to get a law on the protection of whistleblowers passed. Now that we have the law, it seems to be put to use – which is clearly a good thing. The challenge we have before us now is to make sure that people who report are protected properly. They need to know exactly how reporting channels work when they report about potential malpractice or wrongdoing within an organization. It is important to ensure the safety of people who are really concerned citizens and who really want to make sure that things are better around them. There could be a risk that a whistleblower’s report is accessed by third parties who should have no business with that data, the information provided gets leaked or is obtained by those who are reported on. Whistleblowers can be silenced by their superiors as a result.

What are you going to talk about at the conference? What would be the main topics that you are planning to discuss at the conference?

I would like to speak about the actual practice of whistleblowing. I would like to draw attention to the role and responsibilities of CEOs, managers and compliance officers of different institutions when it comes to ensuring that internal reporting is done in a proper manner.

The Law on Protection of Whistleblowers that we now have in Lithuania is not just about making sure that cases are reported on and are followed through, but there must be a change in the organizational culture, a culture shift when it comes to the largest private and public sector institutions.

I understand that a lot of issues that people eventually report can be avoided if the management of the organization takes proper care of the working environment, makes sure that there are no violations in place, and knows that if there were mistakes made, then they are dealt with. It is important that the team in the office knows that they can speak up about any issue or raise any concern they deem fit with their superiors and that those concerns, and questions are being addressed. It is something that can be eventually achieved, or we can at least get better at it – which would already be a huge success. Ultimately, it could help us understand how to measure the success of the protection of whistleblowers in any given country. At the end of the day, it is not the number of cases or the number of reported stories that define the success of legal frameworks but the overall improvement in the quality of organizational day-to-day activities and the quality of risk management exercises.

 

This article was written under the auspices of the project “Support for Whistleblowers”, funded by the Transparency Foundation and donors to the Alliance Against Corruption in Latvia.

 

The Whistleblowing Conference is organised by Alliance Against Corruption in Latvia.

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