Whistleblowing culture

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It has been exactly 70 years since Winston Churchill stated, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Meanwhile, Mongolians have now been experimenting with democracy for 26 years. Today, the benefits of democracy are mostly enjoyed by a small number of people in the government, rather than the people.

While democracy is based on a representative system in its early stages, it later transitions into a democracy focused on civic engagement. Mongolians seem to have the perception that electing their government representatives means all issues will be resolved. However, these supposed representatives of the people are now changing the structure of the government, not by the wishes of the people, but for their own advantage. They have been stealing so much from public funds that they have now embezzled from the future income of our country.

From the beginning of their tenure, we – the people – should have carefully assessed whether or not the people we elected were delivering on their duties, and we should have made interventions if things were not going well. Instead, what we have done is wait for the next election so we can vote for a different political party. Mongolians are coming to their senses only now, and have realized how much time and opportunity has been lost on our path to development. As a society, we have increasingly been discussing how to fix the situation we are in today, and what should be changed and improved.

What we know, and stand firmly for, is that our first and foremost priority is to get rid of the corruption deeply seated in the government. In order to combat corruption, we need to build a new culture in all government organizations. This new culture must allow and encourage everyone to report internally and externally how corruption is harming public interests.

“Whistleblowing” is the term that represents what the new culture should embrace. This refers to revealing information and exposing wrongdoings, including those that compromise the public’s wellbeing.

A MEASUREMENT FOR CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

Every citizen has the responsibility to speak out and act against any illegal action or wrongdoing,  regardless of whether or not they are working for a government agency or the private sector. Rectifications can only be made when there are facts and evidence to prove a crime has been committed.

Because Mongolia is unable to stop corruption, our economy is constantly hit by crises. As a result, we are trapped in our external and internal debts and are trying to attract foreign capital at any cost. Corruption is posing a threat to our national security, but we still do not have a culture that detests corruption and is willing to reveal information. This has roots in historical reasons that are connected to our unique culture.

Nomadic and settled societies have a lot of differences. Nomads think that anything bad that has happened to other people will not happen to them. Hence, it is not a priority for nomads to fix the flaws or wrongdoings of others. In contrast, settled people believe that what happens to their neighbors matters to them. Therefore, they have a better capacity to protect shared or public interests. If the public’s interests are being harmed, Mongolians have a cultural tendency to not speak up, instead of taking action or intervening. We even have a phrase that is directly translated as, “A mouse strangling itself for the state”, which means that it does not matter, nor it is not necessary, to worry about bigger problems.

Even if a Mongolian was a witness to a serious crime, many would prefer to act as if they had not seen anything, instead of reporting it. One Mongolian proverb says, “Be a pillow for the dead, rather than a witness to the living.” It is common for Mongolians to ignore issues and sit back thinking, “I will only mind my own business, others will  raise the issue and fix it.”

This way of thinking was strongly embedded in the Mongolian mindset under communist rule, when many people were punished for crimes they did not commit. People were tortured in interrogations and gave coerced statements about themselves or other people. Until 1990, Mongolians labeled people who had exposed information as betrayers, sell-outs, or informants.

We need to realize how this culture of ours has become a bad habit that shackles our development. Also, this mindset is being leveraged by those who are stealing public funds. Therefore, we need to step up and be more willing to take action and get involved.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, RESPECT, AND PROTECTION

Since transitioning to democracy and a free market economy, Mongolians have been able to have private property and have acknowledged the need to protect public property. Although this mindset is being strengthened, there is still a lack of willingness to take action against stealing public property as long as private properties are untouched.

People are still not consciously aware of the fact that the taxes they are paying make up public funds and state property. The key reason for this is that many of us do not pay our taxes directly to the state but through an employer.

However, Mongolian society is not completely silent – we hear whistles being blown every now and then. Even though our media habitually avoids talking about certain topics, they have been discussing the air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, and have been looking for new information about what the 200 billion MNT in public funds meant to combat air pollution was spent on and by whom. Our press has also informed the public about people who have been buying expensive houses here and abroad, despite life-long careers working for government agencies. The media is talking about the billionaires born from the government.

Whistleblowing is an act of civic courage. When exposing information or wrongdoings, whistleblowers can first approach an organization, then the media and law enforcement agencies.

In most cases, whistleblowers face threats, intimidation, and acts of retaliation from whoever they have exposed. In some cases, those who have been exposed take various actions against the whistleblower, such as suing for defamation, starting a witch hunt, demoting them, or firing them.

We need to establish a culture where people understand the value of what whistleblowers do, and acknowledge the changes they can bring about for a society. In some situations, whistleblowers have to be protected. Police and judicial organizations must operate independently. Mongolia has set a trend where big criminal cases create a lot of commotion when they first break but are eventually dismissed, despite going through judicial processes.

Mature democracies have laws that protect whistleblowers. Whistleblowing laws were enacted in the United States in 1863, in England in 1998, in India in 2002, and in Canada in 2007. The Netherlands has even set up an advice center for whistleblowers, Adviespunt Klokkenluiders, to help with their protection. In 2013, major media organizations established the specially protected website Publeaks.org to connect whistleblowers to journalists.

We must monitor what the government is doing, stop corruption, and blow our whistles. Otherwise, our democracy will never mature, our economy will never overcome crises, and we will not be able to establish the principles of a free market.

Translated by B.Amar

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