Europe’s first known experiment with whistleblower rewards is not off to a good start.
None of the four people who applied for a monetary reward under Lithuania’s new whistleblower protection law received a payment, according to local media. The requests were denied even though the people were granted whistleblower status and made valid reports that helped authorities investigate misconduct.
Elena Martinonienė, a spokesperson for Lithuania’s Prosecutor General, gave a dubious reason for rejecting the applications. “The information from the whistleblowers was important and helpful,” she acknowledged. “But the information was known before the law took effect. The law does not act in reverse.”
Martinonienė said the reports properly were made after the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers became active in January 2019, but the “information in the reports was not absolutely new.”
The problem is that this loophole is not mentioned in the whistleblower law, nor in the “Remuneration Procedure for Reporters of Valuable Information” approved by the government in November 2018. The law simply says whistleblowers who have reported “valuable information” may receive a reward according government regulations. And these regulations don’t exclude information that is “not absolutely new.”
Due to confidentiality rules, Martinonienė said she could not provide any specifics on any of the four cases.
The rejected applications are troubling on several levels. First, Lithuanian citizens could be disincentivized to report crime and corruption that occurred before January 2019. Second, if the Prosecutor General – the sole agency with authority to administer the law – can simply make up reasons to deny rewards, Lithuania’s new whistleblower system won’t function properly and will lack credibility.
Third, the notion that prosecutors would pay citizens for information to be used in a criminal proceeding is not ethically sound. Whistleblower rewards should be paid by an agency with no stake in the outcome of an investigation, such as an ombudsman’s office or an independent agency set up for that purpose.
Finally, the rejections tarnish the otherwise noteworthy success of a new program in a country with almost no experience with the issue. Applications were approved for 36 out of 68 people who requested whistleblower status during the law’s first year, according to local media. Based on whistleblower reports, five pre-trial investigations were begun and one case reached court.
Eighty percent of reports were about suspected misconduct within the public sector, including accounting fraud, asset misappropriation, abuse, influence peddling and environmental harm.
In another positive sign, seven employers were warned not to retaliate against employees by dismissing them or cutting their salary.