Challenges of Whistleblowing in Georgia – Legislation and Practice

News | Research | Good Governance | Analysis 4 March 2021

The whistleblowing institution has been in place in Georgia since 2009 and is regulated by the Law of Georgia on Conflict of Interest and Corruption in Public Service. In 2015, reforms of the whistleblowing institution and whistleblower protection were carried out and an electronic platform was created that also allows for anonymous disclosure. The platform is administered by the Civil Service Bureau, limited to sending incoming whistleblower statements to a relevant agency. Despite the reforms, the effectiveness of the whistleblowing mechanism, including the electronic platform, has been lacking - the number of whistleblowing cases is very low. According to a survey conducted by Transparency International - Georgia, in half of the public institutions the whistleblowing mechanism was not introduced at all: in 18 of the 36 public institutions studied over the past five years, no cases of whistleblowing were reported, despite the fact that no less than six of these institutions were sent at least one whistleblowing statement via the electronic whistleblowing platform.[1]

 

The whistleblowing institution is one of the most important components of ethics and good faith standards enforcement in practice and plays a major role in the fight against corruption. The whistleblower takes responsibility for the common and public good, which is why he or she may be seen as a "alarmist" who tattles another person or institution. Accordingly, constant work on the development of the whistleblowing institution and its strengthening is essential for the effective functioning of this mechanism and, consequently, for the effective fight against corruption.

 

The aim of IDFI’s research is to determine the reason for the low number of cases of whistleblowing in Georgian public institutions, to identify gaps, and to elaborate specific recommendations for their elimination through the analysis of the legislation and study of the practice.

 

Findings of legislative analysis:

 

- Legislation on whistleblowing does not cover the private sector, leaving both the private sector as well as the activity of establishments that do not belong to civil service, but exercise delegated public authority and, therefore, may harm the public interest, beyond control.

 

- Legislation does not provide for unconditional public whistleblowing (even as an exception) and a whistleblower is obliged to submit a disclosure statement to a relevant institution in the first place. The law does not allow public disclosure, even as an exception, in cases where the whistleblower has a reason to believe that a breach could pose an imminent or obvious threat to the public interest.

 

- A common standard for internal whistleblowing procedure does not exist in Georgia. In addition, the legislation does not include an obligation for public agencies to develop internal whistleblowing mechanism and procedures.

 

- Whistleblower protection in Georgia is not regulated by an independent legislative act that would emphasize the importance of this institution and improve the coordination of the process.

 

- The law enforcement agencies are not subject to the general legislation on whistleblowing and special legislation is still to be developed.

 

Public data analysis findings:

 

- Majority of public institutions do not record disclosure statements and/or do not release information related to them.

 

- The agencies that record disclosure statements process different types of data, since a unified methodology of whistleblowing data processing does not exist, so there is no unified data on whistleblowing mechanism application in the country for a comprehensive analysis of the practice (sex, rank of a whistleblower and person disclosed, form of response to disclosure etc.).

 

- The rate of use of the electronic whistleblowing platform (www.mkhileba.ge) by whistleblowers is minimal.

 

 

Quantitative survey findings:

 

- The survey on the whistleblowing mechanism among civil services show that the awareness of civil servants in this regard is quite low.

 

- Most public agencies do not have their own codes of ethics, and a majority of civil servants do not know whether any internal acts in their agency regulate whistleblowing matters.

 

- Awareness of civil servants about the internal mechanisms of whistleblowing is low, and a significant part indicates that such a mechanism does not exist in their agency at all.

 

- The results of the quantitative survey indicate that civil servants almost never use the electronic whistleblowing platform (www.mkhileba.gov.ge).

 

- According to the results of the quantitative survey, a large proportion of civil servants do not respond to violations of ethical norms, which is significantly due to the low level of civil servants' awareness of response mechanisms, as well as their attitude towards the effectiveness and reliability of existing mechanisms.

 

 

- According to the quantitative survey, the majority of respondents believe that effective whistleblowing mechanism is needed to fight corruption, and a large proportion expresses a positive attitude towards the institution of whistleblowing.

 

- Slightly over a half of the civil servants stated that they would respond appropriately in practice if they became aware of a breach of ethics in the agency.

 

- Most of the surveyed civil servants are not aware of the attitude of the management of their agency towards the whistleblowing institution.

 

 

Qualitative survey findings:

 

- The analysis of in-depth interviews revealed that a lack of awareness on whistleblowing, a sense of insecurity, and a distrust of the authorities coupled with the belief that the whistleblower confidentiality will not be fully protected may constitute the obstacles to the efficiency of the whistleblowing mechanism.

 

- Respondents state that political will, awareness raising, guarantees of whistleblower’s protection, and strengthening confidence in the mechanism efficiency are necessary for its effectiveness.

 

- The civil servants who took part in the qualitative survey expressed a feeling that the management of the agency is forgiving towards violations of ethical norms committed by high-ranking employees and in case of disclosure, they might create a problem for the whistleblower.

 

- The civil servants who took part in the qualitative survey point out that the attitude within the agency is a hindering factor to the active application of the whistleblowing mechanism.

 

- The civil servants pointed out in the framework of the in-depth interviews that state agencies need to better inform employees on the whistleblowing mechanism and whistleblower protection guarantees.

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

 

The research found that the Georgian legislation on the whistleblowing institution has undergone significant amendments, but it does not fully comply with international standards; it still has shortcomings, which hinders the effective implementation of the whistleblowing mechanisms in practice.

 

The study also found that civil servants' awareness of mechanisms of whistleblowing and whistleblower protection guarantees was low. The electronic portal of disclosures www.mkhileba.ge is in fact dysfunctional.

 

Research indicates that the reasons for the failure of the whistleblowing institution may be a lack of political will in the country, passivity of public institutions, distrust of the mechanism, among others. This once again emphasizes the need to establish an independent anti-corruption agency, one of the functions of which will be to review, respond to, and monitor whistleblowing statements.

 

Disclosure data is not recorded and processed in the country according to the common standard, with most public institutions not recording data at all and/or not issuing such data.

 

Effective steps need to be taken to address the gaps and challenges identified by the research, namely:

 

Revision of the Georgian legislation on whistleblowing to bring it in line with international standards, including regulation of the issue by a separate legislative act, establishment of a coordinating body (independent anti-corruption agency/state inspector), removal of the barrier for public disclosure, establishment of a unified standard of internal mechanisms and procedures, development of special legislation for law enforcement agencies.

 

-  Application of the legislative norms on whistleblowing to the private sector.

 

Study of the need for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency by the Government of Georgia through active consultation with civil society and field experts.

 

Adoption of the rule and methodology for registration of whistleblowing statements for public agencies by the Government of Georgia.

 

Raising awareness of whistleblowing mechanisms among civil servants, including the electronic platform, as well as whistleblower protection mechanisms by the Government of Georgia, the Civil Service Bureau, and relevant public institutions through training, information clips, brochures, and other awareness-raising activities.

 

Study of the whistleblowing institution issue for its promotion by the Government of Georgia, including in order to impose sanctions in case of harassment of the whistleblower, to determine the rule of compensation for the damage caused to the whistleblower, and to define possible cases of rewarding the whistleblower.

 

Encouragement of the use of the electronic portal of whistleblowing by the Civil Service Bureau, regular update and analysis of the data on the portal, proactive publication of the processed data, possibility of creating an electronic account of an anonymous whistleblower, introduction of mandatory feedback on disclosure statements (including anonymous) submitted through the electronic portal, providing hotline for consultation etc.

 

 - Adoption of codes of ethics by public agencies, inclusion of issues related to whistleblowing in them, elaboration of disclosure response procedures, and ensuring employee awareness of these.

 

-  Clear expression of the attitude towards the institution of whistleblowing by the management of public institutions, and ensuring constant encouragement of disclosure among the employees.

 

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[1] The dysfunctional whistleblowing mechanism in the Georgian public service, Transparency International - Georgia (2020), available at the website.

 

/public/upload/Analysis/ENG-Challenges of Whistleblowing in Georgia.pdf

 

/public/upload/Analysis/Web_Eng_Challenges of Whistleblowing in Georgia.pdf

 

 

This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.

 

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