The Whistleblower Protection Bill has proposed to criminalise retaliatory action against whistleblowers and set harsh punishment for such offences.
If the parliament passes the bill submitted by Galolhu North MP Eva Abdulla, submission of criminal cases against individuals over any legal action taken to reveal sensitive information will be prohibited.
The bill states that any individual who takes retaliatory action against a whistleblower or suspected whistleblower can be imprisoned for a period of 6 months to five years or be placed under house arrest.
According to MP Eva, the purpose of the bill is to stamp out acts of corruption committed by both government institutions and private companies.
The definition of whistleblowing as per the bill is reporting the possible existence of an activity which constitutes an act of corruption, negligence of legal obligations, violation of human rights, misuse of government authority, obstruction of justice, resource leaking, retaliation against whistleblowers, causing considerable damage to the environment, and endangering public health and safety.
The following are considered retaliatory actions:
- Unfair dismissal or demotion
- Increasing the probation period and limiting work hours
- Withholding work-related benefits
- Reducing work-related benefit or prolonging decisions about granting such benefits
- Threats, intimidation or bodily harm
The act grants whistle-blower the right to submit complaints regarding retaliatory action committed against them to the Employment Tribunal of Maldives. However, the Tribunal or body to which the complaint is lodged has the right to dismiss the case if it has been two years since the reported actions took place.
The bill also protects whistleblower anonymity by prohibiting the disclosure of private information. Any individual who reveals the whistleblower's name, job title, address, age or family information can be imprisoned for a period of 6 months to five years or placed under house arrest.
The same punishment will also be imposed on individuals who dispose of documents or evidence related to the investigation launched to confirm the whistleblower’s claims. Threatening witnesses who may come forth with additional information is also a punishable offence.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) have the right to take pre-emptive measures against acts of retaliation which may cause permanent harm to the whistleblower.
In the event that retaliatory action causes bodily harm or damage to property, the perpetrator can be sentenced to two years of imprisonment in addition to the punishment imposed for the offence as long as it does not restrict the fulfilment of any obligations.
The whistleblower will also be provided state protection in cases it is deemed necessary.
The bill states that the information reported by whistleblower must be investigated within 21 days. If this period is insufficient, it may be extended by no more than 30 days. The whistleblower must be notified of any extensions in the investigation 48 hours before the initial period comes to an end.
Government institutions must create channels for whistleblowers to report complaints and inform all employees of these facilities within 90 days following the ratification of the bill.
A body which holds the right to take legal action on behalf of the government must be notified if the investigation necessitates the submission of a criminal case. In such cases, information will be publicized to the extent that it does not impede the investigation.