World Bank Omits Whistleblower Provisions and Protections in COVID-19 Anti-Corruption Efforts

On April 28, the World Bank published a report on anti-corruption measures during the coronavirus pandemic. The report lists a variety of places fraud could occur in relation to COVID-19: in “response to the health emergency,” “response to food and livelihoods insecurity,” and in the “adoption of emergency powers to address the health and economic crises and to maintain public safety.” Each category is broken down into areas where misconduct could arise, like in the procurement of emergency supplies and services, and the use of emergency funds, or if the need for emergency powers might overshadow the importance of oversight and accountability. The World Bank’s suggestions for how to mitigate fraud include increased communication and transparency on emergency funds, diligent recordkeeping, and clearly defining “eligibility for financial support programs and criteria for selection among applicants.”

However, whistleblower attorney Maraya Best argues in a July article in The National Law Review that the World Bank’s report fails to include enough information about “creating new whistleblower channels, encouraging whistleblowers to come forward with disclosures, or ensuring the safety of whistleblowers.” Although the report did suggest that entities “establish and/or strengthen grievance redress mechanisms to ensure that communities and intended program beneficiaries have access to simple and functional processes to complain when they do not receive their expected payments,” there was no explicit mention of whistleblowers, who have in the past been incredibly vital in exposing fraud and corruption.

“However, given the often powerful political or economic entities behind corruption, simply advertising that people can report corruption is not enough to encourage reporting. Policies must be in place to ensure the protection of COVID-19 whistleblowers, and the World Bank should consider encouraging nations to put such policies and mechanisms in place in its blog series on this topic or in any future report on this area of corruption,” Best writes in her article.

Whistleblowers’ importance during the pandemic has been proven a number of times thus far: an employee in a Colorado meatpacking factory exposed their employer’s failure to follow state-ordered COVID-19 safety guidelines. In Massachusetts, two nursing home employees turned to Reuters when they were retaliated against for speaking up about hazardous working conditions related to the pandemic. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee in Kansas made headlines when he exposed that the TSA had not been doing enough to protect passengers from the virus earlier in the pandemic. Whistleblowers provide the public with insider looks into all sectors of the workforce, and their rights should be protected in policies and laws, especially during these turbulent times.

Read an in-depth article about Whistleblowing and The Coronavirus Crisis

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