On Wednesday, Transparency International celebrated World Whistleblower Day.
Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Sergey Magnitsky are just the best-known of the many people who have risked everything to do the right thing and challenge the status quo against all odds.
It’s rarely been clearer that calling out wrongdoing and exposing the truth can save lives.
Dozens of cases of mismanagement and corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that citizens need accurate information about the dangers they face.
In China, when doctor Li Wenliang spoke up about COVID-19, he saved countless lives by giving nations around the world the chance to prepare for the pandemic. Initially, Chinese authorities punished Li – a reaction from authorities that is all too common.
Fortunately, some whistleblower stories have a happier ending.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a director of the ministry managing forests alleged in 2009 that the secretary general of the ministry had diverted around US$38 million from a forest protection programme.
This led to the dismissal of the secretary general and stronger safeguards on the programme’s funds. The authorities’ early response, however, was to arrest the whistleblower – although Transparency International’s DRC chapter helped successfully secure his freedom.
Two years ago, the largest corruption scandal in Spain’s democratic history – the ‘Gürtel case’ – forced the government to fall. Bribes paid in return for local and regional government contracts were revealed by the former public servant Ana Garrido Ramos.
She helped stop a nationwide network of corruption by presenting a 300-page dossier to the authorities. She suffered threats and intimidation, but courageously exposed the truth and helped protect taxpayer money.
Do you see a pattern emerging here?
The rule of law depends on the bravery of whistleblowers; yet in exchange for their heroic acts they often face job loss, lawsuits and even physical attacks.
Others are not so fortunate.
We will continue to campaign for all countries around the world to encourage and protect whistleblowers, including through adopting robust and comprehensive legislation.
Once the laws are fixed, they need to be effectively enforced in both the public and private sectors – so that to help save funds, the planet or lives, individuals do not have to make the incredible sacrifices that they need to today.