Whistleblower – Helper or Troublemaker ?

There is no global accepted definition of whistle blowing yet defined as, ‘The disclosure by organisation members of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices under the control of their employers, to persons or organisations that may be able to effect action.’

Whistle blowing can occur internally or externally and it creates value by reducing waste, decrease corruption, enhances agency responsiveness and ensures relations between government and the community are maintained.

It enhances ethical decision making, but if nothing is been done about it; individuals may feel pressure to sacrifice personal ethical standards and their own security which can have high costs including the erosion of ethical decision making, the loss of employees, costly lawsuits and negative publicity of the organisation.

Management resents whistle blowing because it implies a criticism that is seen as a nuisance at best, or, at worst, a threat of exposure of fraud or incompetence. Barriers to whistle blowing should be removed along with the government polices should be in place to protect them from reprisals afterwards. Increase in protection through legislative framework and appropriate compensation schemes are two areas which should be taken into account.

In Australia, Protected Disclosures Act 1994 was inserted into Corporations Act 2001. In 2004, parliament passed the workplace relations amendment (codifying contempt offences) act 2004, introducing whistleblower protection into the workplace relations act 1996.

Australian Public Service (APS) whistle blowing requirements are outlined in the Public Service Act 1999 which is supplemented by the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2002. As per the law, the term whistle blowing refers to reporting of information which alleges a breach of the APS code of conduct by an employee or employees within an agency.

Act of whistleblowers helps in prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution, punishment of crime, enforcement of laws, and protection of public revenue and raises the questions of improper conducts.

Engineers have an obligation to blow the whistle on activity they perceive to breach legal or ethical standards by taking collective responsibility for each other’s actions and support the internal whistle blowing procedures. The organisation should ensure that those who have blown the whistle are not discriminated against; they should create an open environment which allows staff to feel comfortable reporting issues that are of concerns to them.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of whistleblowers fail to accomplish what they hope for. Whistle blowing is not betrayal nor disloyalty but a service to society and the organisation. This perception towards the whistle blowers and the retaliation against them has, at times been severe. This perception needs to be changed and we all engineers have a part to play in this. 

The good practice of whistle bowling include; obligation to report, clear understanding of internal witness, investigation systems, Responsiveness, recognition, staff training and education are vital in addition to internal support strategies.

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