Whistleblowers are essential in the Covid-19 crisis

On World Whistleblowers Day, PSI underlines how, now more than ever, it is essential that workers be encouraged to speak up about potential wrongdoing or health and safety concerns and that management and authorities respond or act on those concerns quickly.

We have been facing extraordinary circumstances over the last months due to the Covid-19 pandemic – in lockdown, humanity discovered that life is not that easy without the workers it once ignored; work is shifting at an unprecedented pace to an online environment; and while many economic sectors are struggling to survive, governments are under constant pressure to alleviate the consequences of the crisis and save lives.

In this pandemic context – or new normality – corruption poses an enormous risk and can be a major issue for those dealing with Covid-19. Shortages in staff, PPE, medicines and other equipment have added pressure to get them fast and at (almost) any price, increasing competition, distorting prices, and prompting the relaxation and simplification of procurement rules, leading to several cases of fraud.

Whistleblowers are key in tackling gross mismanagement in the health sector, in deterring and preventing wrongdoing, and in strengthening accountability and transparency.

Various forms of corruption have been reported during this emergency. For instance, there have been cases of conflicts of interest such as preferential treatment in delivery of services for friends or family, priority access to medical services such as tests and equipment, or exceptions for those circumventing quarantine rules. These practices make healthcare more expensive and of a lower quality; they lead to unequal access to medical services, especially by the more vulnerable, and they also undermine patients' trust in the system. At the same time, those who reported the wrongdoing or terrible working conditions of health workers have been silenced and dismissed.

Now more than ever, governments must do their best to maintain and increase measures aiming at preventing corruption and any other unscrupulous behavior. Now more than ever, it’s essential that workers be encouraged to speak up about potential wrongdoing or health and safety concerns and that management and authorities respond or act on those concerns quickly.

In this context, whistleblowers are the source of valuable information that neither the government nor the public can get from the oversight systems. Whistleblowers are key in tackling gross mismanagement in the health sector, in deterring and preventing wrongdoing, and in strengthening accountability and transparency. Their protection in judicial systems must be ensured to maintain independence of lawmakers when they are put under pressure.

Whistleblower protection in these critical times is vital to recover trust in government.

For more information

Whistleblowers are essential in exposing corruption and wrongdoing and promoting both government and corporate accountability. They help bring to light illegal activities such as tax evasion, collusion and corruption. Whistleblowing can save lives, protect the environment and help stop illicit financial flows. However, in disclosing information, whistleblowers often risk their jobs, freedom, and even their lives.