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Do more to encourage and protect whistle-blowers

The bribery activities at Keppel Offshore and Marine went on for years (Keppel unit 'did not get off lightly' for role in graft scandal; Jan 9).

It is likely that employees were aware of such activities but feared reprisals if they blew the whistle.

Encouraging employees to report wrongdoing, and protecting them when they do, is an important part of corruption prevention.

Robust whistle-blowing protection laws are in place in most developed countries.

But, regrettably, this does not seem to be the case in Singapore. Whistle-blowers in the private sector are left open to retaliation and termination of their employment.

A whistle-blower needs to know that he can disclose wrongdoing anonymously and feel safe that he will not lose his job or, worse, be threatened, physically harmed or sued for defamation.

A great example of a whistle-blowing protection law is the United States' Sarbanes Oxley Act, which requires publicly listed companies to provide independently operated hotlines which allow anonymous reporting.

A whistle-blower needs to know that he can disclose wrongdoing anonymously and feel safe that he will not lose his job or, worse, be threatened, physically harmed or sued for defamation.

Singapore needs a truly robust whistle-blower legislation to augment the provisions under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

This includes specifically prohibiting employers from retaliating or threatening to take action against employees who provide information to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau or other law enforcement officials.

Other provisions include giving companies of all sizes (not only publicly listed ones) and departments a duty to protect whistle-blowers; and in cases of reprisals, placing the burden of proof on the employer rather than the whistle-blower.

Only when whistle-blowers are protected can we safeguard the public interest and enhance our culture of public accountability and integrity. This would protect our internationally recognised brand of incorruptibility and honesty.

Sattar Bawany (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'Do more to encourage and protect whistle-blowers '. Print Edition | Subscribe