The first reading of the Whistleblower Protection bill in the Riigikogu, which should ensure the confidentiality of employees who report corrupt violations primarily at their workplaces. However, the bill has received sharp criticism from both the parliament and the private sector, so it may not become law in its current form.
The protection of whistleblowers, the so-called Whistleblower bill, stipulates that employees must have the right to report violations without their identity being made public and without the risk of repercussions.
All public sector bodies and companies with at least 50 employees must set up an internal communication channel, such as an e-mail address, which can lead to an internal control department through which employees can report breaches to their colleagues or superiors in confidence.
"Such violations are very difficult to detect. It makes things a little easier if someone announces that something is happening there or elsewhere," the Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) explained the bill.
Lauri brought out the example of a money laundering case at Danske Bank, where the employee who reported the violation was also affected, although the case was actively investigated.
The bill has derived from an EU directive, but the Ministry of Justice has extended the so-called mandatory scheme. It has also served to make critics active.
"This is made problematic by the introduction of so-called anonymous channels of communication and an anonymous mechanism favored by the state, where all offenses, whether in private or public law, whether criminal or otherwise will be determined very vaguely. Anonymous reporting would not only apply in case of violations of the law but also if it is contrary to the purpose of the legal norm," Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said.
"These complaints remain anonymous, but they need to be formalized and prosecuted through the relevant information channels, to assess whether there is an offense against the law and order, which in turn creates a situation where we do not talk about money laundering or organized crime. We are really talking about any sphere of human activity, such as whether someone is driving with an un-fastened seat belt or not," Reinsalu went on.
Maris Lauri says she considers such an interpretation ridiculous and exaggerated.
"It's still a matter of reporting misconduct. Where corruption cases are reported, where misuse of the state's money is reported. And it's definitely not anonymous reporting, it's confidential reporting, i.e. the person giving the hint is known, he is simply not revealed to everyone," Lauri said.
However, the private sector does not consider the new law to be necessary either, considering that the current laws already provide adequate protection and that moral issues should not take the form of a law.
"The question is rather whether we still need to legally formalize this protection, or whether it should actually be part of a normal society and a standard of conduct, that we do not bully people who, in their best interests, perform and fulfill their civic duty," director-general of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mait Palts said.
Currently, the bill only has the support of the Reform Party, which is why the Minister of Justice is of the understanding that if necessary, the text of the law must be changed. However, she is not in favor of transposing only the mandatory EU directive.
"If we take an approach that leaves only what the directive requires, it could be that, in fact, bureaucracy will start to grow, that you will have to explain that it is now related to European law and European money, but when it is Estonian money which is involved, stealing is allowed," Lauri said.
However, as currently proposed, the law should not impose a significant additional burden on employers. Many major banks and public authorities have already launched the communication line on their own initiative.
Editor: Roberta Vaino