Leading European MP Endorses Effective Whistleblower Laws

In a recent interview with Whistleblower Network News, Member of Parliament (MP) Sebastian Burduja described his aspirations for implementing the European Union (EU) Whistleblower Directive. Burduja views whistleblower protections as essential and is working tirelessly to ensure Romania passes the strongest protections possible. View his full conversation with FBI whistleblower Jane Turner above.

“MP Burduja’s support for effective whistleblower protections in Europe is a breakthrough moment,” said qui tam attorney Stephen M. Kohn, of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto. “It is imperative that other members of Parliament, both in Romania and throughout the EU, carefully study the positions he is supporting and implement whistleblower laws that will work,” added Kohn, who is also the Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center

The Directive, passed in October of 2019, mandates that all EU member states implement whistleblower protection legislation that follows “common minimum standards” — however, the Directive allows member states to expand upon the standards and implement even stronger whistleblower laws. The deadline for member states to implement the Whistleblower Directive is December 17, 2021.

In anticipation of the deadline, whistleblower advocates are tracking EU member states’ progress in implementing the Directive — and some experts fear that Romania’s draft law is still lacking. In April of 2021, whistleblower experts and Romanian government officials met virtually to discuss the proposed whistleblower legislation and the challenges that the country still faces in this arena. Mark Worth, Executive Director of the European Center for Whistleblower Rights, analyzed eight EU member states’ draft laws and their current flaws, noting that Romania’s draft law “lacks mechanisms to protect employees from retaliation” and “does not define damages or include mechanisms for victimized whistleblowers to be compensated.”

MP Burduja’s Hopes for Implementing the Directive

Elected to parliament in December of 2020, MP Burduja is enthusiastic about both implementing the Whistleblower Directive in Romania and how the law can protect whistleblowers. “It’s really something that has preoccupied me for a long time,” he said on the subject of Romania leading the efforts in the EU to introduce whistleblower protection laws. Burduja studied at Stanford and Harvard with a focus on corruption. He did his Ph.D. thesis “on a topic that people don’t talk about, which is private-to-private corruption, or business-to-business corruption. Essentially, corruption between private entities, and we have plenty of that as well, and we don’t punish it enough, we don’t sanction enough.”

Burduja understands the importance of whistleblowers in uncovering fraud and corruption. “I’ve realized that in many cases, unless you have somebody on the inside who’s going to blow the whistle, you’re not going to be able to catch them. And the government does not have the resources to catch all these felons, really, and so you need protections for whistleblowers, especially when it comes to business to business corruption but also in transactions involving the state. So it’s really been something that’s been on my mind since, I don’t know, 2007 or so, and again I’ve studied it, and now I’m very blessed to be able to do something about it in parliament as an elected member of parliament of Romania.”

Explaining the Directive and Contextualizing Romania’s History

Burduja contextualized whistleblower protections in Romania and explained how the EU Directive plays into it. “Romania, along with other EU member states, does have whistleblower protections for public employees, public sector employees, in place right now,” he explained. “This directive expands them to private sector employees. It’s really very much needed: even the protections we have for public sector employees did not really pay off much in the past, even though Romania – and I hope I’m not mistaken – was the first EU member state to adopt whistleblower protection for public sector employees. And so it’s also an opportunity to improve current legislation and expand it to cover both sectors, public and private.”

Burduja detailed the ways in which he wants the Romanian implementation of the Directive to go beyond the “common minimum standards” that the Directive requires. “We’ve pushed a lot for the elements that we believe have shown great results in the U.S. and beyond, which is enhanced protection, anonymity, and, obviously, rewards. The reward component is especially sensitive in a country that…has been through communism.” Burduja also explained how Romania’s history with communism has informed present-day attitudes about blowing the whistle. “It is said that Romania had back then three, four million people who in various capacities were collaborating with the secret services, the secret police, out of a population of 20 million. So there was a lot of suspicion among people, that was one of the tactics of the communist regime, people were encouraged to tell on their neighbors, they were often threatened to tell on their spouses, on their children, on their parents.”

“So it’s a society that’s been through a lot, and this idea that you’re gonna tell on somebody else has some resistance. And I think it’s perfectly normal. We just have to really explain what the purpose of whistleblowing is, the kind of acts that it helps prevent or uncover, and it’s not easy.” Burduja remarks that it’s a difficult idea to promote even in the political spectrum, “to persuade parties in parliament, even fellow party members, but I think we’re making good progress every day. So it’s just a matter of time that I think Romania will be able to adopt in its legislation and transpose this Directive.”

Burduja also gave an update on how talks about the Directive are progressing. “On this note, we’ve had a very good dialogue with the Ministry of Justice, and so they’ve taken on this role of bringing parliament a final draft of this bill, and once we get to that point we’ll be able to amend it and improve it in parliament.”

Mandatory Reporting and Monetary Awards

When asked if the proposed draft laws include mandatory reporting requirements, meaning that whistleblowers need to try reporting to their company or business before blowing the whistle externally, Burduja said that his coalition has “tried to take that out” of the draft legislation. “In our version, we don’t have that in there because obviously we would want to ensure that whistleblowers are comfortable and they don’t face repercussions and they have an easy time in reporting illegal acts. I think that’s the main key difference between what was happening in communist Romania. People were telling on their neighbors for acts against the regime or perceived acts against an abusive dictatorship, whereas now we’re talking about people blowing the whistle or uncovering illegal acts, that basically mean the government, the society is losing a lot of money, a lot of resources that are ending up in the wrong pockets. Instead of benefitting the whole society and the future of our children, they’re being stolen, essentially, from the people. So it’s quite different and again, it’s not easy to understand, maybe we need to do a better job of communicating it and certainly this kind of interview helps.”

Burduja also mentioned that the country has other strong anti-corruption efforts. “We have a national integrity agency which is quite well-respected. Romania has one of the most advanced legislation on asset statements. Basically every public servant, myself included, has to regularly publish an asset statement and declare everything from bank accounts to properties, all those things, so it’s very transparent and there have been examples in justice where people try to lie about what they owned in the beginning of their mandate, at the end of their mandate, and people have gone to jail for that. Again, I think it’s a framework that’s very dynamic, it’s evolving every day, and better whistleblowing legislation is only going to enhance the efforts of all of these other institutions and essentially reach the same aim, which is a more fair, better society.”

Burduja said in the interview that including monetary awards for whistleblowers is “a point of contention,” though he is “certainly pushing for it.” “In our version of the bill we have it. In the comments we sent to the Ministry of Justice we’ve pushed for it,” Burduja said. “We’ve explained time and again that if you don’t have that in, then it’s not going to be as effective, not nearly as effective. And it’s not about rewarding telling on somebody else, it’s about incentivizing the uncovering of illegal acts, it’s about granting the whistleblower enough protection and comfort.” He recognizes that “it’s not easy to blow the whistle” and said that a lot of whistleblowers or prospective whistleblowers have come to him since he’s been working on this topic. “They told me how hard it is, what they’re doing, how they’re putting their whole career in jeopardy, their families, their own personal safety, the safety of their children. You cannot emphasize that enough.” Simply put, Burduja says that having monetary awards for whistleblowers “seems to work. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s what works in practice.” Burduja has also had “many conversations with prominent whistleblowers like Brad Birkenfeld…if you talk to them, I think you clearly see it, that you need [mandatory rewards] in order for the framework to work.”

Burduja’s energy and enthusiasm for serving his country shone through during his interview. “I am very blessed to be in public service,” he remarked. ”History will tell, but I think that I’m striving to make a difference in people’s everyday lives in a country that’s been through a lot.”

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