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Friday 22.02.2019 | Name days: Rigonda, Adrians, Ārija
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Lithuania will protect corruption whistleblowers, which will be hard in reality

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The elapsing year of 2017 has marked the Lithuanian Government‘s increased efforts to harness corruption in the country.

The last legal action in the regard took place this week in Lithuania’s parliament, which passed a law ensuring confidentiality of persons reporting corruption and other offenses of officers and public servants. The law should take effect in January of 2019.

The law was supported by 70 parliamentarians, with nine abstentions.

The legislative piece, dubbed popularly as the whistleblower protection law, has stirred most ripples in the corruption tackling initiatives.

Under the law, from the moment of blowing a whistle on corruption, the whistleblower should be protected against disciplinary measures, dismissal, demotion, transfer to a different work position or any other actions, such as intimidation, harassment, reprisal, reduction of salary, change of work hours, etc.

The ban on the actions would be in effect for two years after the final decision in the investigation of the information provided by the person. The law also envisages a possibility to exempt the whistleblowers who was involved in the violations but later reported them to the authorities.

Among other things the law stipulates that, upon necessity, the whistleblower will receive legal immunity while the investigation is underway. And furthermore: the corruption buster will have his court-related fees covered by the state and the tipsters even will be eligible for financial incentives.

Proposed in September, adoption of the law was pressed amid Lithuania’s efforts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Lithuanian office of the non-governmental organization Transparency International says that the law meets the key requirements for whistleblower protection, however, notes a risk of indirectly assigning the protection of such persons to prosecutors only.

«The expediently adopted law will serve as a breakthrough in fighting corruption in public and private sector. It is an historic piece of legislation as it took Lithuanian entire 27 years – as many as Lithuania has been living independent – to pass the law laying out a mechanism of the whistleblower’s protection,» a LVŽS reads.

It will be applied not only to the corruption tipster from public sector but private sector too.

The Transparency International Lietuva (Lithuania) has long urged Lithuania to pass this kind of legislation but it failed to garner political support until now.

The NGO hailed the adoption, but cautioned that the law may be crippled if only the country‘s prosecutor general‘s office is obligated to ensure its implementation.

«Protection of the corruption whistleblower ought to become an urgent matter of all branches of law enforcement and furthermore: (it should become) part of every organisation and every company. Only with the approach we can expect tangible changes (in fighting corruption)» Sergejus Muravjovas, the chairman of Transparency International Lietuva (Lithuania) is quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.

«However, the legislation has be certainly seen as a stride forward.  Until now, we possessed a set of measures to protect the corruption whistleblower, however, they were not used and picked up dust in the drawers,» he accentuated.

Numerous online commenters and local politicians were overwhelmingly sceptic about the new law and casted doubt on its efficiency.

«Corruption and dirty business are inseparable…How can you expect the ruling party LVŽS to fight corruption with the law in hand if the party‘s leader (Ramūnas Karbauskis) has plenty of business interests in Russia…He is definitely dependable on the Kremlin and on its most influential players…The Conservatives were the only ones who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act (it bans entry to foreigners involved in large-scale corruption, money laundering or human rights violations starting next year. It will affect Russian nationals mostly, many of whom are well-known Russian entrepreneurs and Kremlin-linked politicians). Only the Conservatives can make change in corruption-ridden Lithuania,» says a post under an article on delfi.lt

Another online commenter also excoriated the LVŽS leader.

«Look, has not he said that he will let the Special Investigation Service, STT, run through his business records? He did not follow up on his promise. Shame!» reads the post.

«I want to see how the snitchers will be protected practically…I just have a hunch all will remain the same as it was until now – the snitcher will be doomed and terrorised, with no prospects of a decent job in the future,» other online poster reasoned.

Some of the politicians also shared scepticism whether the whistleblower law that will go into force from 2019 will make any change.

«Corruption is so rooted in in Lithuania that a single law, or even a package of legal acts, cannot have a major impact on the scourge. To me, it is all about mentality: we need to teach our children about transparency and accountability of our own actions and those by the surrounding environment from early days. With the extended rights of mayors, people in the municipalities, especially in those in the provinces, are too scared to say anything against the authority. I just don’t see the people braving up all of a sudden and daring to snitch a local big shot to law enforcement (over possible corruption). You just cannot be sure that the information won’t be leaked to the others and the whistleblower and his family will suffer at the end of the day as a result,» Eugenijus Simutis, a Council member of the Palanga municipality, told BNN.

According to him, there’s much nepotism in local municipalities.

«The response of the Palanga municipality to a request often depends what party of societal movement you represent. And the official answers are written that the complainer has no other alternative than go to court, but few resort to the measure due to the costs,» Simutis emphasised.

In tackling corruption, in September, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė initiated legislative amendments to fight illegal enrichment.

Although the legislature was adopted seven years ago and 357 pre-trial investigations were started thereafter, the majority of illegal enrichment-related charges were dropped, with the investigators pointing out to a set of loopholes in the law.

This autumn, the country‘s Financial Crime Investigation Service, FNTT, drew up a set of new criteria that now allow to more efficiency tackle corruption activities in the finance sector.

But all of this may not be enough though.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5283


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