Jamaica encounters opposition to whistleblower bill

The Jamaica Gleaner News is reporting that parliamentarians pushing a new whistleblower protection are facing opposition. The majority’s latest draft of the proposed bill will protect Frederick Douglasswhistleblowers only if they have made their disclosures through certain official channels. If any officials in any of those channels happens to be one of the wrongdoers, whistleblowers will face a choice between angering their antagonist with ineffective disclosures, or making a wave with outside channels and losing legal protections. National security information could go only to the government minister, or prime minister.

Opposition Senator K.D. Knight objected to the bill’s reliance on government officials to do the right thing.  "I am most unhappy," he told the Gleaner. Member of Parliament Clive Mullings complains that requiring private sector employees to make disclosures to their employer for an initial determination before making other reports will discourage employees from coming forward.  Ohio’s whistleblower law, ORC 4113.52(A)(1)(a) has a similar provision that makes the law particularly weak. Whistleblowers need the freedom to raise their concerns through the channels that will be most effective for the circumstances they encounter. If a whsitleblower picks one means to raise concerns about illegality, don’t we want to protect that whistleblower even if the employer might argue that another channel would be better?  We should protect whistleblowers when they use any channel to raise a concern about any danger to the public.

I can imagine some Jamaican officials thinking that a whistleblower bill would be a good government thing to do.  Then, when they get to writing the bill, people in power applied all their talent and resources to preserve their strings of power, and limit a whistleblower’s opportunities to challenge them. I recall the United States Senate experiencing something similar with the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), S. 372. I am reminded of Frederick Douglass’ famous words, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

On Thursday, the Gleaner ran a letter to the editor by Christopher Pryce:

A whistle-blower is a person who exposes wrongdoing that is taking place in an organisation, or raises concern about some breach of conduct classified as violation of law, regulation or rule that can be a threat to the public interest, e.g. fraud, tax evasion, price-fixing, corruption, occupational safety violations.

And like all crimes, the impact extends beyond the company, organisation or the government. It reaches to and affects us all as entrepreneurs, as investors, as consumers, as employees, as citizens. Hence, we are all stakeholders in this matter and the widest possible public-education efforts should be undertaken to inform the citizenry, and cause the best insights and considerations to be presented to the joint select committee.

Here! Here!

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