WHISTLE-BLOWING is action taken by current or former members of an organisation to reveal illegal, immoral or illegitimate practices to people or organisations that might be able to take corrective measures.
The whistle-blower is expected to initially use internal organisational mechanisms to report wrong-doing. This may include the immediate superior, more distant superiors or a designated integrity officer.
If the issues raised are swept under the carpet and not acted upon, then the whistle-blower can report to external integrity agencies such as Task Force Sweep, the Ombudsman Commission, the Public Service Commission or the Auditor General.
Sometimes such agencies are referred to as the fourth arm of government. There is consensus within the international community that anti-corruption legislation and measures need to be be monitored by specialised bodies with adequate powers, resources and training.
The whistle-blower is also able to pass information to a member of parliament to raise the issue in parliament if it is a serious matter that may jeopardise the public good.
If all these avenues are exhausted, or are perceived not to be effective, and there is no sign of redress, then the media may be a good avenue to expose problems. In Papua New Guinea, the Post Courier is more objective than The National but, due to threats and coercion by politicians and their henchmen, all reporting is more subjective nowadays.
Recently social media has caused some discomfort to the corrupt fat cats who occasionally threaten to sue or introduce laws to control the media, just like what they want to do to the judiciary through the Judicial Conduct Bill a year back.
There are various types of wrongdoing and they can be categorised as illegal, unethical, dangerous or inefficient. Illegal acts include corruption, subverting the course of justice and theft.
Unethical conduct includes patronage and breaching public service values, such as soldiers or police working for corporate interests or running their own security businesses using state issued firearms and other equipment.
Dangerous activities include polluting rivers and land, unsafe work practices like exposing workers to asbestos or using the same syringe to inject everyone without cleaning or changing it.
Inefficiency covers practises as people sitting on their bum and surfing FaceBook during working hours or clocking off at 1 pm and going off to the Lamana Hotel to sit in front of the poker machines with a calming glass of rum and ice.
There’s also waste - irrational economic decisions that provide no value for money in the discharge of government activities.
All these vices should be reported, recognising that the motive for whistle-blowing must be public interest and not personal or political advantage.
Some people argue that the motive behind whistle-blowing is irrelevant when there is ample evidence of illegality and unethical behaviour.
The argument goes that if one uses the established mechanisms to discredit a hated rival then it is still legal as long as the allegations can be substantiated with ample evidence in a court of law.
A Whistle-blower Protection Act would shield whistle-blowers from reprisals and offer immunities from liability but PNG has never thought of this.
In the best interests of people, the government should also enact a Public Interest Disclosure Act toencourage and enable public servants to raise suspected wrongdoing within the public service.
Government departments, state-owned enterprises and the criminal justice system would have responsibilities under such legislation to investigate suspected wrongdoing and take appropriate action.
The Ombudsman Commission with other integrity agencies would have a key role in the monitoring and oversight of a Public Interest Disclosure Act and could provide assistance to whistle-blowers and agencies.
In PNG, the impediments to whistle-blowing can be minimised with the passage of such appropriate legislation. Legal protection, anonymity and a supportive ethical culture are the basics of effective and honest organisation which will encourage people to pursue justified whistle-blowing.
At the moment, the main impediments are fear of reprisals from superiors and colleagues, the absence of legal protection and delays in getting results.
Modern digital technology makes whistle-blowing easier but the PNG government has not supported this fourth arm adequately in the past, probably because there is much to hide and there is fear of the consequences of instruments like a Whistle-blowers Protection Act and a Public Interest Disclosure Act.