Fear of losing jobs holding back whistleblowers, says TI-M

Transparency International Malaysia president Muhammad Mohan.

PETALING JAYA: The fear of losing their jobs is one of the main reasons holding back employees from coming out to report wrongdoings by their bosses or in their companies, Transparency International Malaysia president Muhammad Mohan said.

He said employees or anyone else can lodge a report with one of the government’s seven enforcement agencies and enjoy protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010.

“If they make the expose with any other body, they will not get whistleblower protection

“However members of the public are afraid of reporting to enforcement agencies either because they do not feel safe or they have the impression their identities will be revealed.”

The seven enforcement agencies are the police, MACC, Customs, Immigration Department, Road Transport Department, Companies Commission of Malaysia and Securities Commission

Muhammad suggested that the reporting channels be expanded to include organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), which is seen to be more friendly by the public.

He said although Suhakam is not an enforcement agency, a procedure could be established by which issues referred to Suhakam are then referred to MACC.

Set up Parliamentary Ombudsman

“Another suggestion is to set up the position of Parliamentary Ombudsman to whom a whistleblower can make a report in confidence with assurance of protection,” he told FMT.

The de facto law minister, Liew Vui Keong, said recently that public awareness about the whistleblower act was unsatisfactory as people in the workforce are still fearful about reporting misconduct of their bosses.

He said there had been only 124 cases reported between 2015 and April this year. Liew said the public needed to be educated that there is nothing to fear and whistleblowers will get protection under the act.

MACC chief Latheefa Koya last week called for loopholes in the law to be plugged. She did not specify the nature of the loopholes, but said she would bring up the issue to the government in the hope of closing the gaps.

“We need to be clear. If a person exposes something, it does not necessarily mean that person is a whistleblower under the law,” she said, adding that a whistleblower was someone who may be affected or penalised because of the information given to MACC.

Latheefa said immunity initially granted to a whistleblower could also be revoked as “it really depends on what is the nature of the complaint”.

Fear of action under Official Secrets Act

Malaysian Trades Union Congress secretary-general J Solomon said the act was “not so effective”, if people were afraid to come forward.

He said whistleblowers could face action if they revealed documents classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972, even if the purpose was to disclose acts of corruption, misuse of power or criminal activities.

They could risk being fined up to RM1 million or imprisonment of up to one year or both.

He said this provision weakened the effectiveness of the Whistleblowers Act

He said the secrets act had made the government less accountable, as civil servants could not reveal anomalies in government transactions or concession agreements.

From past experience, he said, the authorities have tried covering up or protecting perpetrators instead of taking action against them.

Solomon said workers in private companies feared retaliation, discrimination or disciplinary action if they lodged grievances about their employers.

Some people had been dismissed for bringing up irregularities to the attention of their superiors or even to the trade unions.

“The workers have not been highly successful at the Industrial Courts. Most of the time, it is the bosses who will win. The workers are put under a lot of undue pressure. This discourages them from acting against employers who flout the law.”

He said whistleblowers must have legal protection and confidentiality had to be maintained.

Whistleblowers are also not allowed to speak to third parties like lawyers, civil society, MPs or Suhakam.

He said an Ombudsman could act as a one-stop point for whistleblowers instead of them going to specific enforcement agencies.