Who does the Whistleblower Protection Act truly protect?

JANUARY 23 — In a recent report on the effectiveness of the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), it was revealed that of the 8,953 complaints received by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), only 28 were courtesy of whistleblowers.

The report, A critical look into the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010 by former Bar Council president Christopher Leong cites reasons why so few people come forward with information of corruption, kickbacks and abuse of power within their organisation. 

The flaws cited in the report include whistleblowers are only protected if they tip off enforcement agencies such as the police, MACC, Bank Negara and the Securities Commission.

Whistleblowing to anyone else including (or especially?) the media will negate any protection provided by the Act. Even revealing information to your MP is not allowed, as Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli would attest to. 

The PKR lawmaker and anti-graft campaigner found himself on the wrong side of the law following a press conference on alleged shenanigans at a government linked body. 

You see, the current Act criminalises anyone who reveals official secrets, even to the MACC and police if this information is classified as “SULIT” or secret.

So imagine a civic-minded civil servant who attempts to expose corruption within his department by alerting the MACC and providing documents with the damning evidence against his colleagues and superiors. 

If those materials are classified OSA, the whistleblower will instead find himself cuffed and facing charges under the Official Secrets Act.

So coming back to the beginning of this article as to why only 28 people have come forward as whistleblowers — the other reason would most definitely be the trust deficit suffered by enforcement agencies.

What guarantees are there that their identities would be protected? And geographically we are not a country where witness protection can be easily enforced such as in Europe or the US.

Moreover, the fact that enforcement agencies are at times perceived to be used for political purposes or against “enemies of the state” is not lost on the masses.

Identity and information leaks are not new, where even the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is subject to a police probe, after a statement by the editor of a portal under MCMC investigation made its way to a website run by a pro-establishment NGO.

And with a porous information sharing system within certain agencies, it is no wonder that many prefer to look the other way instead of putting their heads on the chopping block for doing the right thing. 

They could even face criminal charges for lodging a false report or face worse consequences, if their identities are revealed. Let’s not forget that the MACC is still reeling from two deaths in custody, one involving a potential informant.

The current Act makes whistleblowers vulnerable even if they reveal information to the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).

And in ongoing scandals, what is preventing the mentri besar, chief minister or mayor from classifying documents as “SULIT”, to discourage anyone from tipping off the authorities?

The WPA 2010, as opined by many, seems to be a cosmetic exercise to illustrate that Malaysia does indeed have whistleblower protection laws as required as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and to help improve the country’s standing in the Corruption Perception Index (where we are in 55th place out of 176 countries).

The government has promised reforms to address these issues. But the sincerity is in question as the question to be asked is who does it stand to benefit if the Act stays in its current flawed format; and who tends to lose if the WPA is amended to truly empower whistleblowers?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.