Don't 'shoot' the whistleblower, Greece and China woes, Pakistan's Urdu language

Commentaries and insights from newspapers in the Asia News Network (ANN).

An investor looking at a board showing stock market movements at a securities company in Beijing. PHOTO: AFP

1. A Humble Submission: Do not 'shoot' the whistleblower

Authorities should focus on the bigger picture and the larger issue of corruption and mismanagement

Syahredzan Johan

The Star/ANN

There is perception, not unwarranted, that the authorities are more interested in going after those who expose wrongdoings, rather than those who actually committed the offence.

In other words, the authorities are more likely to take action against whistleblowers, rather than wrongdoers.

Recently, someone cheekily tweeted a scenario where a person makes a report to a police officer about money stolen from a mosque.

When asked what proof he had, the CCTV footage of the perpetrator was shown. The officer's response was to investigate how the CCTV was obtained, ignoring the actual crime.

It is true that sometimes the disclosure of information by the whistleblower is crime. We have a whole host of laws that make it an offence for individuals to reveal information that they possess.

The Official Secrets Act (OSA), for example, criminalises disclosure of information that is classified as an "official secret" by unauthorised persons.

Meanwhile, the Penal Code criminalises the unauthorised disclosure of information by those who obtain that information through their work as a public servant.

For information relating to bank accounts, there are also laws, which makes it a crime for someone to give such information to others.

Whistleblowers usually are people within the organisation or structure, who came across the information in their line of work.

If we do not protect these whistleblowers, they will not come forward with the information that they possess. If these people do not come forward with information that they possess, wrongdoings within the organisation may never be known.

We have a Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), but it is an ineffective piece of legislation.

For one, a whistleblower is not protected if the disclosure made by the whistleblower is contrary to any written law. So a whistleblower that discloses information classified as official secrets will not be protected since the OSA prohibits such a disclosure.

The WPA also requires the disclosure to be made to an enforcement agency.

Once a disclosure is made by the whistleblower to an enforcement agency, the whistleblower shall be conferred protection under the Act. This protection comes in three forms.

The first is protection of confidential information.

The whistleblower's confidential information such as the information about identity, occupation, address or whereabouts shall not be disclosed in any civil, criminal or any other proceedings.

If there are records of the confidential information contained in any documents in evidence, for example, the information can be concealed from view or obliterated to protect the whistleblower.

The second is immunity from civil and criminal action.

The whistleblower shall not be subject to any civil or criminal liability for making a disclosure of improper conduct. However, the protection may be revoked if the whistleblower himself has participated in the improper conduct disclosed.

This would preclude those who have seen the "error of their ways" to come forward and provide disclosure, as any protection accorded to them may be revoked.

The third is the widest form of protection, that against "detrimental action".

This includes any action causing injury, loss, damage, intimidation or harassment and any adverse treatment or action whether it is in employment, trade, business or protection of a person because the whistleblower has made a disclosure of improper conduct.

So for example, an employee who has made a disclosure against his or her employer cannot be dismissed from employment by virtue of his or her whistleblowing.

The Act empowers enforcement agencies to investigate into complaints of detrimental action and allows the court to order damages, compensation, injunction any order remedies against the party who makes the detrimental action.

But our enforcement authorities are suffering from a trust deficient.

The public do not have faith that an investigation will be carried out openly and thoroughly on the allegations, especially if that wrongdoing is within the enforcement authority itself.

When there is a lack of faith in the enforcement agencies, the whistleblowers will not report it to them and will instead choose other ways of making the information public.

We need to review the WPA and make amendments to the law in order to ensure that it can truly protect whistleblowers. At the same time, our authorities need to be clear on what should be prioritised.

While it may be so that the disclosure of information by the whistleblower may run afoul of the law, the authorities should prioritise investigations on the wrongdoing that has been exposed instead of investigating and prosecuting the whistleblower.

The authorities should focus on the bigger picture and the larger issue of corruption and mismanagement, instead of on smaller issues such as unauthorised disclosure.

Unfortunately, recent episodes of whistleblowing have shown that the authorities seem more intent on shooting the messenger, instead of investigating the message.

The writer is a young lawyer and partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur.

2. Greece and China woes: Should we worry?

Cielito F. Habito

Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

Two external financial upheavals in recent weeks are causing jitters well beyond the shores of where the events are transpiring.

Greece, owing to long-standing issues with its government finances, is teetering on the brink of a possible exit from the European currency union and from the economic union itself, a prospect now commonly termed as "Grexit."

Banks have been closed to prevent their collapse from panic withdrawals, and worries about possible repercussions on global financial markets raise the specter of another global financial crisis similar to the 2008-2009 episode induced by financial weaknesses in the United States.

Closer to home, China's stock market has come crashing down in what a blogger described as "a loss of 15 Greeces in market capitalization in a span of three weeks."

The Chinese stock market has indeed lost one-third of its value-equivalent to about 15 times the annual gross domestic product of Greece-within less than a month, in an unprecedented drop that has analysts scratching their heads.

One theory even attributes the crash to the "ominous names" of the last three chairmen of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), China's stock market regulator.

Writes Bo Zhiyue in The Diplomat: "The man who was CSRC chairman for almost a decade, from December 2002 to October 2011, is named Shang Fulin, meaning the probability of China's stock markets going up is zero.

Shang's successor is named Guo Shuqing, meaning losing all you have, and Guo's successor is named Xiao Gang, meaning cutting it all."

What's clear is that China stocks had become so overvalued that a correction was inevitable.

But no one seemed to have foreseen the market to fall so steeply and so quickly as it did over the past month.

To be sure, there is much pain and suffering associated with these developments in the two widely disparate economies-in one, induced largely by seeming government misdeeds; in the other, in spite of determined preventive government moves.

In both cases, the problems were not at all unanticipated, but the respective governments were seemingly incapable to stop the inevitable.

Greece's woes are nothing new.

The prospect of a "Grexit" has been around for several years, since the massive misrepresentation of the Greek government's finances came to light in 2010.

The problem sums up as follows: For a unified currency to work, the countries involved must synchronise their economic policies, especially management of government revenues and expenditures-and Greece did not quite conform.

Adopting the euro required certain disciplines (the so-called "Maastricht criteria" agreed to by the European governments in the Dutch city of that name)-on the size of public deficits and maximum debt the countries could incur, among them.

Based on these criteria, it is argued, Greece ought to have never been admitted into the Eurozone in the first place.

Its government bureaucracy was seen to be bloated and prone to overregulation, corruption and political patronage.

But in its determination to be part of the union, it concealed the true state of its government finances, and continued doing so as its deficits grew beyond control.

Things had to blow up at some point, and Greece has now become the first developed country to default on a loan from the International Monetary Fund, losing all credibility with creditors in the process.

With banks on a forced holiday, citizens, especially pensioners, cannot access their hard-earned savings, while panic-buying and hoarding threaten to send the economy into a tailspin.

As for China's stock market crash, the losses involved are of far greater magnitude relative to the Greek crisis, and opinions are divided regarding the seriousness of its longer-term implications.

For some, it's the beginning of the end of the China economic juggernaut, or what analysts have constantly predicted to be its inevitable hard landing, even doom.

For others, it's just another bump on the road as China seeks new directions for its economy, as slowing demand from faltering Western economies has taken the steam from its export-driven growth engine.

It's important to note that the steep fall in the China stock market simply took it back to levels that prevailed only four months ago, and that it's still 80 percent higher than where it was a year ago.

It was the Chinese government itself that induced the recent extraordinary market surge, by easing restrictions on stock market investments using borrowed money.

As a result, an unusually high proportion of stock market trades in China is financed by debt. Also unique is the preponderance of small investors in the stock market, much of whom reportedly don't even have a high school education-an estimated 90 million people accounting for 85 percent of trades.

Elsewhere, it is large institutional investors who take the lion's share. China's stock market crash is thus hurting large numbers of Chinese, and analysts believe that the Communist Party is most worried about the possible political backlash of all this, and not so much the financial and economic implications.

Will ordinary Filipinos be hurt by the Greek and Chinese crises?

The 2008-2009 global financial crises hardly affected us; there's little reason why things should be much different this time around. Our economy's strength has lately been homegrown and internally driven (which the Chinese, incidentally, have also been aiming to achieve).

If anything, I'd say it's the potential political consequences of these events, rather than direct financial effects, that would ultimately be our greater worry.

3. Rush to make Urdu official language in Pakistan

Pakistan should not ditch English with the stroke of a pen

Faqir Hussain


Following the Supreme Court's recent query about measures taken for adopting Urdu as an official language, as mandated by Article 251 of the Constitution, the centre embarked on a flurry of frantic efforts: the information ministry issued directions to all other departments to switch over immediately to the national language.

The change should have been effected within 15 years of the promulgation of the Constitution, but nothing could awaken the government from its deep 30 years' slumber on this requirement until now.

The way in which the measure is being implemented is both unprecedented and unwarranted.

Summaries and minutes of meetings and communications between the ministries are to be made, and tests for induction in government service are to be conducted in Urdu.

No homework has been done and no training given to public officials. The result will be a disaster; the further lowering of standards and deterioration of service quality. This is not in line with the dictates of the Constitution.

Article 251(1) stipulates that "arrangements shall be made" for using Urdu as an official language, which means a lot of homework including translation of laws, rules, regulations and training, etc., before embarking on the venture. Further, the said article provides for "the teaching, promotion and use of provincial language", which requirement does not find mention in the government directions.

Language, anywhere in the world - more so in Pakistan - is a sensitive, indeed, divisive issue, and must be handled with due care. We cannot shut our eyes to our bad experience when the people of former East Pakistan revolted against the suggestion of no less a personality than the Quaid for adopting Urdu as an official language. The response was harsh, resulting in a popular movement, led and sustained by intellectuals, especially the academic faculty and students of Dhaka University, who argued for Bengali as their national and official language.

The argument was acceded to only after prolonged civil unrest, riots and bloodshed on Feb 21, 1952 (a day later designated by Unesco as International Mother Language Day). It was the beginning of the process of dismemberment of united Pakistan. The language riots in 1971-72 in Sindh are also still fresh in the memories of people, especially its destructive effects on ethnic and racial harmony in Karachi and Hyderabad.

We must not lose sight of the practical realities: Pakistan is a multiracial/multilingual nation, with six major and some 50 minor languages spoken by diverse ethnic communities and nationalities. The number of Urdu speaking people is reportedly barely 7pc, compared to 44pc Punjabi, 15pc Pakhtuns, 14pc Sindhi, 10pc Seraiki and 5pc Baloch.

Sindhi and Pashto are relatively developed languages, used as medium of education at the elementary level and medium of instruction for higher learning in certain disciplines. They are strong candidates for being adopted as provincial languages. Urdu, though spoken by a minuscule segment, is, however, making gains and increasingly being used as the lingua franca in the urban belts of the country; with the rural areas as alien to it, as they are to Greek.

To do business in Urdu, the non-Urdu speaking population will have to make as much effort as they need to do in learning any foreign language. It is therefore unfair to ask them to switch over to Urdu for use as an official language and/or taking tests for appointments to government posts. They will clearly be at a disadvantage, as they are not been given an even playing field.

This is unfair, and violates of Articles 25 and 27, which prohibits discrimination and provides for equality of rights, of opportunities and before law. This will also be a violation of Article 28, providing for the "preservation of language, script and culture". It is impermissible to establish a system of governance, based on discrimination and racial or linguistic hegemony or domination.

Let Urdu continue its slow and gradual march of gaining popularity and attaining its rightful place as the lingua franca in the country, both in urban and rural regions. Let the government facilitate the process through translation of laws and other material in Urdu and the training of public officials and others.

Let us not ditch English with the stroke of a pen. It is the language of advanced civilisation and the medium of instruction for higher research and studies. With globalisation, the modern age of computer and IT, it offers the key to the future. Countries in a much advanced stage of economic development and technological advancement, like China, are introducing English in their teaching institutions, because it is beneficial for accelerated growth and development.

It will be a tragedy, if we in Pakistan squander this important resource due to the myopic vision and rash decisions of our leaders.

The writer has served as secretary, Law & Justice Commission of Pakistan, DG Federal Judicial Academy, and registrar, Supreme Court of Pakistan.

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