PRINCIPLED, HEROIC

Whistleblowers must be celebrated & protected

Whistleblowing entails huge risks on the whistle-blower.

In Summary

• Whistleblowing entails huge risks on the whistle-blower.

• They are likely to experience retaliation in an attempt to destroy their credibility.

Githongo ruling on Anglo Leasing
Githongo ruling on Anglo Leasing
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED:

Earlier this month, revelations of the looting at Mara University left the country in shock. Consequently, the whistle-blower, Spencer Sankale, was highly praised for his bravery in exposing corruption at the institution.

Whistleblowing happens when organisational information on wrongdoing, unknown to other participants, is revealed. Given the intention, whistleblowing is good and should be promoted if Kenya is to win the fight against corruption.

Around the world, legislation on whistleblowing have been passed in numerous countries in an attempt to encourage employees to speak out against wrongdoing. For example, Dodd-Frank Act in the US, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 in the UK, and Witness Protection Act 2010 in Kenya.

The question begs, why do people choose not to speak out and expose corruption, an act that causes serious harm to the general public, even after they become aware of the deed, and despite the fact that doing so would make the whistleblowing a heroic act?

First, the decision on whether to whistleblow or not is not a single decision-point, but an extended emotional episode. It would be subject to influences such as the unique characteristics of the individual actually making the decision to whistleblow, and the particular features of the context that influence whether the individual will make the decision.

Research conducted on whistle-blowers showed that the majority were people committed to their work and the organisations they worked for, had built their careers over time and were considered to be successful up to the point where they committed the act of whistleblowing. Thereafter, they either lost their jobs, became bankrupt or their marriages broke and others attempted suicide. This led to the conclusion that the act, therefore, affected the whistle-blowers from economic and emotional standpoints.

For instance, people’s perceptions on what is perceived as wrongdoing differ as a result of cultural variations. As a result, to some, whistleblowing carries negative connotations such as company traitor, licensed spy, a snitch, a rat. Further, in countries where corruption is not only tolerated and encouraged, but also where previous whistleblowing attempts have been condemned, then the position likely to be taken would be ‘don’t act’.

Secondly, whistleblowing entails huge risks on the whistle-blower. They are likely to experience retaliation in an attempt to destroy their credibility. For the employed, they could get isolated with restricted resources and their job grade downgraded. Defamation of character then precedes the last stage of expulsion from the organisation.

Research conducted on whistle-blowers showed that the majority were people committed to their work and the organisations they worked for, had built their careers over time and were considered to be successful up to the point where they committed the act of whistleblowing.

Thereafter, they either lost their jobs, became bankrupt or their marriages broke and others attempted suicide. This led to the conclusion that the act, therefore, affected the whistle-blowers from economic and emotional standpoints.

Looking at how the lives of past whistle-blowers in Kenya changed, it can be concluded that the society condemns and punishes whistle-blowers. The narrative needs to change from castigating someone for standing by their principle if Kenya is to win the war on corruption.

To address the two points raised, whistle-blowers who successfully expose corruption need to be celebrated and rewarded whilst suspects should be expeditiously charged and sentenced according to the law. Kenya is watching to see what comes out of the Mara Heist expose, and if Spencer shall experience the whistle-blower’s curse.