Protecting the whistleblowers
There are several mountains to climb when it comes to fighting corruption, one of them being ensuring that an enabling environment is created for those that expose it to have the protection of the law. There are those who hold back from laying bare the corruption they see around them either in the workplace or as consumers of public services. Their fear is founded in reality — whistleblowers can find that they ‘disappear’ with remarkable speed. Thus it is much to be welcomed that the National Assembly on Thursday 17th August passed the Public Interest Disclosures Bill 2017. The session was being chaired by Mahmood Bashir Virk in the absence of the speaker and the deputy speaker. Mr Virk happens to be the chairman of the house committee on law and justice which had already approved the bill in May of this year, but the opposition parties had been running a delaying operation based on technicalities.
Nationally the focus on ridding the country of corruption is high in the public awareness courtesy of the Panama Papers; and there is a certain irony that the bill had been introduced in line with the PML-N’s own manifesto which had spoken of ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption — a case of being hoist with one’s own petard. The bill prevents punitive action against any person that would highlight corrupt practices, and is in line with international conventions regarding public interest disclosures.
Such people are known as ‘whistleblowers’ and Pakistan needs to see and hear a lot more of them. Corruption is endemic at every level of governance and those that seek to fight it can find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination or intimidation, abuse both physical and verbal, punitive disciplinary action and threats to their families — and in some cases all of the above. No matter that they acted in good faith and a belief in the public interest, they are vulnerable and deserve the protection of the law. As ever the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating and the corrupt have powerful friends and supporters. We will watch closely as to implementation of this essential legislation.