A tick-box approach to whistleblowing policies within an organisation will not motivate employees to speak out, says ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). Private and public entities need to ensure there is a cultural commitment to whistleblowing.
At a time when reported cases of whistleblowing are on the increase and gaining prominence in both the private and public sectors, such as the nurse who blew the whistle at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, and employers preventing employees from speaking out through gagging clauses in their contracts, ACCA says now is the time to get disclosure rules right.
Gillian Fawcett, ACCA’s head of public sector, said: 'For managers to simply put policies in place within an organisation won’t result in an effective whistleblowing environment. This cannot be a tick-box exercise. There are many benefits to a more embedded disclosure regime, including a more open and transparent organisation and in tackling fraud and corruption, but an organisation’s cultural commitment to the value of whistleblowing is at the heart of addressing the question of motivating prospective whistleblowers.
'It is vital that those who are minded to disclose relevant information are convinced that, where they do so in good faith, the information they disclose is going to be treated seriously and, where appropriate, investigated and dealt with in the right way. Often, those who speak out within or outside an enterprise are regarded as troublemakers who cannot be relied upon. If individuals do not believe their disclosure will be handled properly then matters which are potentially important to the governance of the entity will not be made.'
ACCA says that lessons can be learnt from the introduction of other legislation, such as the Race Relations (amendment) Act 2000, which required public bodies to comply with a positive race equality duty, requiring them to go beyond the policies and put arrangements in place to raise staff awareness through training programmes and on-going monitoring and support. This approach was critical for raising staff awareness about their responsibilities under the Act and what it meant for their work. It also helped to instil confidence in the process.
ACCA, which has welcomed and responded to the consultation issued by the Public Concern at Work Whistleblowing Commission, warned against using financial or other incentives for potential whistleblowers.
John Davies, ACCA’s head of technical, said: 'Financial or other rewards for whistleblowers are not consistent with the culture and philosophy of UK in the context of ‘public interest’ disclosure. The motive for blowing the whistle should always involve not the prospect of personal gain but a concern to disclose information which is material to the cause of good and open governance, the non-disclosure of which would allow an illegal, unethical or otherwise dysfunctional situation to continue.
'The prospect of financial reward should not, as a rule, influence a decision as to whether or not to disclose relevant information. The danger, as we see it, is that a regime which offered substantial financial pay-outs to whistleblowers as an encouragement to the reporting of information would undermine the integrity of the concept of whistleblowing, and make it more difficult to achieve the buy-in of management and governance bodies.'
This is not the first time ACCA has spoken out about whistleblowing. In ACCA’s report Setting high professional standards for public services around the world which was updated for 2013, it called for whistleblowing laws and policies to be promoted by finance professionals working in the public sector around the world, to ensure that communities can have full confidence in how their taxes are being spent. Overall, finance professionals have a critical role to play in building public trust by championing the cause of developing anti-corruption procedures and cultures.