Protection of People Reporting Wrongdoing – Way Forward for Bulgaria

Reporting is recognized to be one of the most effective tools for exposure of corruption, fraud, mismanagement and other  irregularities threatening the public interest. At the same time, people who speak up often risk their carrier and even life. Currently the protection of whistleblowers is in the agenda of many international bodies and is subject to legislative initiative in many countries. Recently the EU also passed a Directive, providing for minimum common standards for member states in this area.

On December 12, 2019, Transparency International Bulgaria hosted a roundtable discussion where we presented the key features of the Directive and started the debate on the necessary actions that need to be taken with regard to the transposition.

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The event was opened by Ms Diana Kovatcheva, Ombudsperson of Bulgaria. She emphasized that the protection of whistleblowers is closely connected with the protection of fundamental rights, and in particular with the right to work and the freedom of expression. “The employees face a huge risk not only of dismissal, but many other forms of retaliation, in case they report against e.g. their manager” said Kovatcheva. The Ombudsperson also stressed that the Directive aims at ensuring safe reporting mechanisms not for citizens, but for workers of the organisation (both in public and private sector), where the irregularity happened. In conclusion, Kovatcheva said, that along with the legislative process, it is very important to conduct a campaign aimed at broad public, to make it clear that the whistleblowers are not informants against their colleagues, but are people who protect the public interest.

The key features of the Directive were presented by Mr Kalin Slavov, Executive Director of TI-Bulgaria. Kalin highlighted that the legislation will practically affect the entire society – legally, ethically, and economically. “The [transposition] process needs political leadership from the highest possible level and active dialog with the interested parties. The experience shows, that to obey a law, one has to understand its appropriateness and necessity. That cannot happen simply top-down”, added  Slavov calling on immediate start of a broad dialog. (Presentation of Kalin Slavov is available in Bulgarian language here)

Katia Hristova-Valtcheva of TI-Bulgaria provided for perspective to challenges before business sector in the context of the integrity and good governance systems. Ms Hristova presented the general models of engagement of the private sector in the protection of whistleblowers and draw the main components of a good corporate policy in this respect. “Developing of ethical standards and ethical infrastructure are no more enough, the current tendencies include a thorough integrity system, where the whistleblowers protection has a central role” said Hristova. (Presentation of Katia Hristova-Valtcheva is available in Bulgarian language here)

During the event we also presented the leading international experience. Guest speakers from the Transparency International movement introduced to Bulgarian audience existing solutions in legislative framework and practice.

Mr John Devitt, Chief Executive of TI Ireland and Chair of the Whistleblowers International Network, in his presentation explained the term “whistleblower” and offered to the audience an overview of the risks that whistleblowers face. Mr Devitt discussed the recognized international standards for whistleblowers protection and illustrated these with practical examples from existing national legislation. (Presentation of John Devitt is available here)

Giorgio Fraschini of TI Italy and Elsa Foucraut of TI France talked about the key components and proper solutions employed in the legal framework of their countries. Our colleagues did not conceal the negative lessons learned, which we could take into account while developing the national legislation.

The second part of the event grew into an energetic discussion, moderated by Mr Antony Galabov. Among the debated topics were the best approach to legislation – a stand-alone law or a sectoral approach; optimization and merging of the already existing tools into a comprehensive mechanism for protection of whistleblowers; buildup of citizen’s energy to complement the fight against irregularities; the condition of the business environment; the cultural features of our society.

At the conclusion, Kalin Slavov thanked to all participants for the fruitful discussion and accentuated that it is very important that the Directive is not transposed simply “on paper”, but through actual working mechanisms. He expressed confidence that with the event we did not closed up the discussion; on the contrary – put the start to broader dialog which must continue.

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