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Faces of Open Government – Inese Kušķe

Rostros del gobierno abierto - Inese Kušķe

Protecting Whistleblowers in Latvia

Inese Kušķe|

Inese Kušķe, Public Administration Policy Department, the State Chancellery of the Republic of Latvia, is responsible for elaboration of the Whistleblowing Law adopted by the Parliament on 11 October 2018. Inese Kušķe is a consultant for the Department For Public Administration Policy at the State Chancellery of the Republic of Latvia

Latvia recently passed a law ensuring whistleblower protection nationwide, a big victory for open government. How was the process to achieve this law and what was your role in the process?

Work on this law started several years ago. An initial study was done in 2012 by Transparency International Latvia. One of its conclusions was that Latvia needed a special legal regulation that would define a whistleblower and would be used as a law that would complement existing, general legal norms. In 2014, Transparency International Latvia called on the then Prime Minister of Latvia to establish a working group to create a legal regulation to protect whistleblowers.

We convened a working group, led by the State Chancellery,which I represented, that included the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the Ministries of Justice, Labour, and Interior, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, Transparency International Latvia, and the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia. The first draft law was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers in March 2017 and sent to the Parliament.

Later in 2017, we organized an international conference on whistleblower protection with the Parliament where we discussed experiences from France, Ireland, Netherlands, and the United States. Key players in Latvia – the state institutions, academia, business sector, NGOs – also discussed how to improve whistleblower protection in the country. The Parliament then established a working group where I participated. We elaborated an alternative draft law in early 2018 and the Whistleblowing Law was finally adopted by the Parliament on 11 October 2018.

It was quite a big victory and achievement for our country. For the first time, this law defines what a whistleblower is, the main whistleblowing channels and protection guarantees in case of a reprisal. The law also creates a Contact Point for Whistleblowers and a dedicated website.  The law goes into effect on May 1, 2019 giving us time to prepare for its implementation.

Why is adopting a Whistleblower’s Protection law important for the country?

The previous regulation was not sufficient. The dominant perception amongst citizens was that it did not make much sense to report corruption. As a result, we saw only a few examples of people coming forward to report abuses. With the new law, reporting, handling of the reports made, and whistleblower protection guarantees are all linked together in one special mechanism. This law -for the first time in our country- shows that reporting a violation with honesty and sense of fairness is the right behavior and that should the person reporting encounter any problems, they will get protection guarantees. The law is an important contribution to a democratic, open and participatory culture. It is also a way to say we can achieve safety and justice in our country if we all take it as a shared responsibility.

What can we do to ensure whistleblowers are protected worldwide?

Setting the legal grounds to protect whistleblowers is only the first step. It is imperative to effectively implement whistleblower protection laws that include safe reporting channels to protect the identity of whistleblowers. If it is done properly, it prevents reprisal. Governments should also ensure that competent authorities receive proper resources and training to ensure they handle whistleblower reports professionally and with care.

It is vital to raise awareness in societies across the world and among competent institutions in different branches of power. Whistleblowers should be treated with respect at their workplace (or business sector) and in society, not as outsiders or traitors. If whistleblowers helped prevent harm against the public interest – for example, reporting a problem with children’s food or safety, preventing environmental pollution, or reporting on a possible case of corruption – we should honor that, because they did not do that for their own interest.

Each case will be different  and not all whistleblowers are experts or lawyers, but they can attest serious violations as insiders in their workplace. It is important to create such whistleblowing mechanisms that provide advice and assistance to persons willing to come forward to report abuses.

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