Slovaks are willing to report wrongdoing encountered in the course of their work. They also believe that such whistleblowers must be protected by the state. This is based on a survey carried out by the Focus Research Agency for the Whistleblower Protection Office (WPO) in Slovakia.
The survey was conducted from January 19 to January 26, 2022, among 1,017 respondents in the form of personal interviews. We asked them how they perceive whistleblowing and whether they would report wrongdoing encountered while doing their job.
Whistleblowers are perceived positively by 58 % of respondents and up to 74 % of respondents think that the state should provide the whistleblowers with legal protection through its institutions.
To the question: „If you witnessed corruption or fraud in your workplace, would you be willing to report it?“ 61% of respondents said yes, 35% said no, and the rest could not comment.
The survey also shows that 45% of respondents would be willing to report corruption or fraud directly to their employer. This represents the highest share of willingness compared to the willingness to report corruption or fraud, e.g., to the police (34 %) and to the public prosecutor’s office (21 %).
We believe that this will can be supported by functional internal reporting systems. Employers in Slovakia have been obliged to have them in place since 2015. They should have a designated responsible person who receives and verifies reports from employees, the channels through which the employees can report their concerns, and the mechanisms for proper verification of these reports. Whistleblowers must be protected from bullying, intimidation, or disclosure of their identity.
However, the mapping we have done lately shows that there are still state institutions that do not have internal reporting systems, and, where they do, they are often only formal.
87 % of the 254 organizations (ministries and their subordinate organizations and selected authorities of public administration) that responded to our questionnaire, declared that they had an internal reporting system. In the last three years, however, only 23 organizations have registered any employee reports.
This indicates a malfunction of the set systems and distrust of employees in these systems. It is also possible that employees are unaware that there are many options regarding the reporting of their concerns. It is highly unlikely, also based on several media cases, that there are no unfair practices, illegal activities, or corruption in the state institutions.
Based on the previous cases we have dealt with, the questionnaire and the study of 166 internal directives, several shortcomings in the internal reporting systems of the state institutions arise. For example:
- the internal reporting systems do not allow anonymous reports to be made
- they do not inform employees to whom they can report (who is the so-called responsible person)
- the channels through which the report can be made are chosen inappropriately (receptionist, secretary, registry office, box)
- the role of the responsible person is on the shoulders of only one employee and his/her competencies are not clearly defined
- employees lack information about the possibilities of the protection
- and there is no feedback on the credibility of the internal reporting system.
According to several studies, functional internal reporting systems can detect fraud much more effectively. If well set up, they can help:
- identify risk areas and processes in organizations
- save public resources
- positively influence the practice at subordinate institutions and practically in the whole sector for which the ministry is responsible
- protect institutions from reputational damage
The Whistleblower Protection Office became operational in September 2021. Since then, 194 people have contacted us. In total, our legal team have worked on 60 relevant cases. In these cases, we have provided legal counselling, suspended retaliatory measures against whistleblowers, assisted in obtaining the protection from the prosecutor, carried out internal reporting system checks and participated in court proceedings. We register 10 new protected whistleblowers.
Currently we are actively working on 13 relevant cases of reported wrongdoing. Most of them are from state administration environment, mostly dealing with machinations in public procurement, conflicts of interest or mass violation of the Labour Code.
In addition to setting up the Whistleblower Protection Office in Slovakia and mapping the environment, we have also prepared a manual that provides guidance on how to properly set up an effective internal reporting system for state and public administration institutions. It is based on good and functional practice and recommendations of the WPO.
In this manual you can find following recommendations:
- leaders, heads of institutions should actively promote the use of internal reporting systems
- principle of “multiple eyes” should be used, i.e., not to leave the verification of reports on one person
- independence and competence of those verifying the report should be ensured
- institution should have mechanisms in place to prevent conflicts of interest
- reporting and verifying of anonymous concerns should be allowed
- corrective measures should be required, and their implementation monitored
- possibilities of protection provided by the WPO, and the public prosecutor’s office should be explicitly stated in the internal guidelines and directives
- employees’ confidence in the internal reporting system should be checked regularly
In addition to the manual, the Whistleblower Protection Office is ready to give consultations about setting up the internal reporting systems or about further employees’ training.