Why we need whistleblowers


…the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.  – Albert Einstein

 Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong. – Leo Buscaglia

If it is true that pillaging of state resources in Malawi was happening as far back as during Bakili Muluzi’s government, why didn’t anyone sensible raise the alarm and report to the authorities the wrongdoing at the time?

Besides the few voices which complained and were largely ignored, why didn’t anybody else complain? Why didn’t the Anticorruption Bureau, that state champion of angelic fiscal uprightness, the judicial champions within the Malawian courts or even the army do something about it? Did these institutions exist? Further, why didn’t the citizens take to the streets to demand accountability and change from their government?

Is it because some of them were afraid?

That raising the alarm would invariably expose them to attack or ridicule, and lead to undesirable consequences such as isolation; the whistle-blower would be left aside, made a pariah, jobless – as no one would want to employ a ‘troublemaker’; that the whistleblower would be labelled as difficult-blacklisted and sidelined from being a full and active member of society; that they would lose friends – some of whom were part of the very same thieving machinery: you are either with us or you are against us;  the whistle blower’s life be in danger – from thugs employed by the political bigwigs of the ruling elite, an insurance policy against their illegal practices.

Could it also be because nothing would have been done even if the alarm was raised? That since there are few or no institutions in most parts of Africa including in Malawi that have real power to protect innocent civilians who have a well-meaning desire to expose theft, corruption and bad governance in public office, raising the alarm only makes you a victim? Or could it be that as has been demonstrated again and again internationally (with the likes of Snowden and Wikileaks), a whistleblower = a criminal?

The daughter of Mark Felt, the whistleblower known as Deep Throat, who provided journalists information that led to the downfall of Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal once said:

“I guess people used to think Deep Throat was a criminal, but now they think he’s a hero.”

And it’s not only governments who are responsible for this attack on individual and press freedoms, even public institutions have been doing it. In the UK, NHS Hospitals have been the subject of many ‘gagging orders’, recently to the tune of £2 million just to silence whistleblowers. That’s hardly a mark of transparency in a 21st century democracy governed by the rule of law. Or is it? [Without sounding sensationalist, my mind tells me that £2 million is enough money to create decent jobs for one year for at least 80 graduates across the country. I’m talking people who have been out of work for a while, despite many interviews and many job applications, and who would literally jump at the opportunity of a £25,000 /year job, even if it’s just a one-off.]

In August, Laura Poitras wrote:

“Because of the disclosures made by Edward Snowden, we have for the first time an international debate on the scope of government surveillance. Almost daily for the past three months citizens learn of new unlawful surveillance programs being secretly run by their governments. All of our reporting has been in the public interest, and none has caused harm.”  [See here]

Why do the political classes (and their propaganda machine) refuse to acknowledge that whistleblowers are a necessary check to good conduct? An auditing process for responsible democracy for the safeguarding of transparency, performance and responsibility. An essential and heroic part of the fabric of society?

In the absence of those who naturally have it in them to take a stand and confront wrongdoing, to confront illegal, scheming and dirty tricks of the all-powerful, all-seeing, bullying, well resourced state (and its constituent branches), who is to prevent unjustified heavy-handed actions of impropriety or even abuse of public office?

I think society would be better-off, safer, happier and our governments would be much more responsible, and respectful towards their citizens, if whistleblowers were encouraged, protected and rewarded.

Other Links

‘We need whistleblowers’ says Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee

The Snowden Leaks and the Public

Miranda Detention: ‘Blatant Attack on Press Freedom’

UDF for reduced powers as Muluzi alleges corruption over Jet money

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