By Poly Pantelides
THERE is no specific legislation in Cyprus to protect whistleblowers with those in the private sector remaining under-protected while procedures for civil servants discourages anonymous information, a report by anti-graft organisation Transparency International Cyprus (TIC) has said.
The report is part of a series of national reports assessing whistleblowing protection laws within the EU, published this month. Just last week Cyprus ranked at the bottom of the rankings for transparency in taxation by the OECD, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The conclusions (Cyprus was 50th along with the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg) are due to be ratified later this month, but they should be no surprise to most Cypriots.
A series of annual corruption perception indexes by TIC, giving an idea of how people perceive corruption in Cyprus, have consistently shown that people distrust the system and believe corruption is widespread.
TIC’s whistleblowing report says that though there have been legal changes giving whistleblowers bigger protection, people are not necessarily aware of them. And when they are, the impression is that the laws are imposed on Cyprus by EU bodies or intergovernmental organisations.
But the report also mentions the former environment commissioner’s call to introduce specific whistleblowing legislation, reported by the Cyprus Mail soon after the 2011 munitions’ blast that killed 13 people and knocked out the country’s main power station. The legislation “could have prevented the devastating explosion,” TIC said.
A series of public hearings on the blast did indeed reveal the inability of the state machine to correctly assess and act on information concerning the dangerous munitions stacked out in the open in a naval base for over two years. Theopemptou told the Cyprus Mail there was no relevant procedure to report ill-doings in the workplace. “And so everyone avoids action and illegalities continue,” he said at the time.
TIC said that actually there was a vast network of laws offering considerable protection to whistleblowers who are employed by the state, but the protection afforded to employees in the private sector was unclear. Also there was no “specific legislation offering independent stand-alone protection to whistleblowers,” TIC said.
In other words, it could get messy if a member of the public was to blow the whistle on activities going on in a field he or she was not employed in. And though the law protects civil servants (via the unfair dismissal law, the public service law, etc.) the protection relates mostly to corruption claims and bribery and not other illegalities, while procedures are founded on written submission of information, TICsaid.
The law needs to be amended to explicitly allow verbal or anonymous reports, TIC said. The media and politicians alike need to also stop “labelling” whistleblowers as “heroes” or “snitches” depending on political affiliations, TICsaid.
Visit http://www.transparencycyprus.org/ for more information