Whistling in the Wind!
This is something I had written which I feel should definitely be up here:-
When I saw the video of Joanna Gualtieri addressing high school students about her experience as a whistleblower, their reactions and comments reminded me of my own beliefs when I was in high school. I, like most of us, had grown up believing that telling the truth is the right thing to do – whatever the cost. Bryce Courtenay’s book, The Power of One (1989), had shaped my understanding of human judgment. In his book he writes, “The power of one was the courage to remain separate, to think through the truth and not be beguiled by convention or the plausible arguments of those who expect to maintain power, whatever the cost.” A small part of me still believes this philosophy.
In today’s politically charged environment, the only agenda of those at the top is to maintain power, and money is power. Those who stand up to the abuse of this power, usually get crushed. No doubt we hear about the Enrons and WorldComs of this world which were brought to their knees by whistleblowers but then again, what about the hundreds if not thousands of efforts which go unreported?
Through this paper, I would like to discuss the cost that whistleblowers pay for telling the truth. I would like to analyze the incentives that we as a society should provide to these individuals who have the courage to stand up against the wrongs that we see in our lives every day but still choose to ignore, due to various reasons - personal or otherwise. Our case discussion is about Joanna Gualtieri, an Ottawa lawyer who took on the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in a decade-long battle which revolved around government misspending and later on about the harassment she faced when her superiors retaliated to her blowing the whistle on them.
During our discussions in class, a point was raised that given the bureaucratic nature of an organization like DFAIT, our whistle blower, Joanna Gualtieri, should have tried to bring about a slow and steady change, that she should not have given up so soon should have tried to work things out with her superiors slowly. It was suggested that she should have been more patient while dealing with such an organization. But does being big and bureaucratic gives such an organization the right to squander taxpayers dollars?
Another piece of information which I found hard to digest was that unlike the United States, Canada has no policy of whistleblower protection. Successive governments have raised this issue as a matter of pre-election promises but once they come to power, it seems like the memory of ever having made these promises is lost. The harassment of Joanna as the hands of her immediate boss and even the callous attitude of her own union is shameful. In the end she paid the price of standing up for all of us.
We hear about all kinds of harassments that whistleblowers face. It is claimed that around 75% of the allegations that come forth via whistleblowers are found to be either incorrect or baseless. But the 25% that do turn out to be true have consequences attached. Harassment at workplace, character assassination, loss of job, disruptions in family life, deterioration of health etc. are common treatments met out to the whistleblowers. But some of them end up paying the ultimate price for standing up for the truth – death.
Satyendra K. Dubey was a project director at National Highways Authority of India. He was a civil engineer from IIT Kanpur and at the tender age of 31, was shot dead in Gaya district in Bihar state of India. He had exposed corruption in construction projects being undertaken by the government and had written a letter to the Prime Ministers’ Office requesting anonymity. But the callous attitude of the government cost him his life after he was exposed to be the whistleblower. Numerous such cases go unreported and even the ones that are reported become old news within a matter of days and are forgotten.
If we as a society expect the truth to be told, then we should be ready to offer our support and protection to those facing such harassments and dangers at the hands of the perpetrators. Laws should be enacted to protect the whistleblowers. Many times we hear the arguments that people might report wrongdoings incorrectly or due to some personal vengeance, but I believe that even if we are able to protect 5% of the whistleblowers who are indeed truthful and right, it is worth the effort and trouble. I believe that many a times it is a difficult decision to figure out what is right and what is wrong, that sometimes it is tough to pass a judgment on ethical issues, but in some cases such as this, when you know something is wrong, it is unethical to delay or deny justice citing the archaic laws of the country as a basis.
In the end I would like to reiterate the fact that if we do not wake up and take a stance, then next time someone sees corruption or mismanagement at any level of governance, public or private, they will think twice about reporting it. It is high time that we enact laws to protect those who wish to bring the truth to light or we may forever be lost in the darkness of power, politics and corruption.