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GAP Hails African Development Bank Whistleblower Policy

April 02, 2007
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Anti-Corruption Reform Sets New Standard for Whistleblower Rights at IGOs
 

(Washington, D.C.) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today applauded the African Development Bank’s (AFDB) new whistleblower protection policy, approved on January 27 by its Board of Directors and currently headed for implementation. The policy sets a new standard for protecting staff members and others from retaliation when they report fraud or corruption in AFDB operations.

GAP International Program Director Beatrice Edwards emphasized one of the policy’s most important breakthrough provisions: “This policy takes a step forward in guaranteeing employment for vindicated whistleblowers who suffer retaliation. For years at intergovernmental organizations, whistleblowers that were dismissed as a result of their disclosures were never reinstated, no matter what the outcome of their appeal.”

The AFDB policy addresses this longstanding injustice. For the first time, a whistleblower who has been fired, and whose claims are proven true, will be reinstated at the same level of salary and responsibility, with back benefits and pay, along with compensatory damages and attorneys fees. The AFDB has also pledged to follow through on a new arbitration system, which will give whistleblowers an independent forum for their cases.

GAP Legal Director Tom Devine noted that the AFDB policy is far stronger than the December 2005 United Nations landmark policy that first recognized public freedom of expression at an intergovernmental organization (IGO). He added, though, “The Bank’s work is not over. The policy will be a three-legged table, until it is reinforced by consensus selection, shared cost, and external arbitration to enforce paper rights.”

GAP also noted that the policy reflects new realities at IGOs, which, like governments, are outsourcing increasing assignments and field work. As a result, GAP has found that growing number of whistleblowers are consultants and contractors rather than staff members. The AFDB policy responds by extending protection to everyone working on operations in any capacity, closing a loophole that is still widening at the other development banks.

In addition, the new policy makes the AFDB the first multilateral development bank (MDB) to substantially comply with whistleblower transparency reforms authored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Lugar (R-In.) that were approved in an October 2005 U.S. appropriations law. In short, the AFDB now protects freedom of expression for all witnesses to corruption, including contractors, NGO staffers, and citizens, with cases adjudicated by modern legal burdens of proof and comprehensive remedies for those who win their cases. No other MDB offers any of those three cornerstones, and the AFDB has pledged to complete work for a system of truly independent arbitrations. More specifically, the reform would:

  • Protect any person whose disclosure of corruption is supported by a reasonable belief that it is true.
  • Protect those who challenge national or international illegality, as well as abuse of authority, mismanagement, gross waste, or a substantial health or safety threat.
  • Protect those who refuse to violate the law.
  • Protect not only AFDB staff, but contractors and their employees, NGO’s, private citizens, or any entity exercising free speech rights to challenge abuses of power.
  • Protect AFDB contractor employees from harassment within their companies, through making whistleblower rights a precondition of loan agreements and providing accountability through sanctions up to contract termination.
  • Outlaw all forms of harassment, including threatened or recommended harassment.
  • Establish confidentiality protection, including the right for prior review by whistleblowers of releases that otherwise might inadvertently disclose their identities, and accountability by designating confidentiality breaches as actionable misconduct.
  • Commit to independent Alternative Disputes Resolution in which employees are partners in establishing the rules for resolution of their cases.
  • Provide interim relief for reprisal victims while the case is pending.
  • Promote accountability and deter retaliation through publicly-disclosed discipline of those who engage in retaliation.

The AFDB reform reflected a sustained effort by the International Affairs staff at the U.S. Treasury Department, who worked for the breakthrough for some years. Tom Devine noted that the AFDB is the only regional development bank that has made progress toward a modern whistleblower policy.

Edwards explained why it would be in the self-interest of institutions that are stalling to keep pace. “World Bank whistleblowers, for example, bring their concerns directly to GAP, because they have no safe channels within the system. Until the Banks establish genuine whistleblower rights, their public servants have no choice but to leak the truth about internal corruption.”

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.

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Contact: Bea Edwards, International Director
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext 155
Email: beae@whistleblower.org

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext 137, 202.236.3733 (cell)
Email: dylanb@whistleblower.org

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