EDITORIAL

Nourishing the white crows

BLOWING the whistle when one sees injustice, a waste of public funds, bribery or other kinds of chicanery or unethical behaviour in people elected to public offices, appointed to ministries or installed as top company officials, does not just come as a natural instinct to most people – it is often dangerous to one’s livelihood and perhaps even to one’s life.

BLOWING the whistle when one sees injustice, a waste of public funds, bribery or other kinds of chicanery or unethical behaviour in people elected to public offices, appointed to ministries or installed as top company officials, does not just come as a natural instinct to most people – it is often dangerous to one’s livelihood and perhaps even to one’s life.

This is why societies that are struggling to root out corruption and set better limits on what constitutes ethical public behaviour should honour those people who dare to blow the whistle – these brave individuals should be publicly appreciated, singled out as good examples and given shelter from the anger of those whose sleazy practices they revealed. Unfortunately, things do not always happen this way in Slovakia – at least, not quite.

Zuzana Melicherčíková, for example, told the media that part-time students were being admitted under rather suspicious conditions to Slovakia’s most prestigious alma mater, Comenius University. She was fired, the Sme daily wrote, adding that after she was sacked from the university’s student services office she worked at McDonald’s to support her family of four. But before she landed that job at McDonald’s, Sme wrote that she had been rejected for a job by another company because her name had appeared in the media in association with fraud – rather than as a whistleblower.

Thankfully, her story is now being told as one of courage, as Melicherčíková recently received a White Crow award. The White Crow awards are presented by two NGOs, the Fair-Play Alliance and Via Iuris, to honour Slovaks who take personal risks as whistleblowers in challenging unethical or corrupt behaviour.

Another White Crow recipient, Jan Mičovský, was fired earlier this year by the managers of Lesy SR, the state run forestry company, after he wrote an open letter to elected state officials documenting the management board's improper handling of the firm's assets. The company’s managing director resigned after the revelations but Mičovský was also shown the exit.

Silent indifference is still the mode of living for far too many Slovaks – they feel that by remaining silent they are protecting themselves and their families from the risk of being singled out and punished for blowing the whistle. They comfort their consciences that justice and truth will win out in the end even without them taking any risks.

But what is actually happening is that those who stand by silently indifferent, hoping that someone else will do the whistle blowing, are handing down a dangerous cultural custom of being tolerant towards corruption and unethical behaviour even if the conduct is given a different name in order to make it look more benign to the younger generation.

Sometimes public officials do the harm with their rhetoric, or more often through their silence. Recently Robert Fico, Smer boss and the former prime minister, said that if the ruling coalition does not stop using what he called “insults” against his party, he would make use of certain “information” , hinting that he and his party have knowledge and evidence of moral or ethical misbehaviour by members of the current government.

It has been clear for some time that Mr. Fico is not a likely recipient of a future White Crow award. Rather he would probably quickly challenge the organisers of the whistleblower awards and claim that they are working for his political opponents or something of that kind.

There are potential White Crows all around us – those who one day might choose to do the right thing. But there are also very few people who actually will have the guts to be a White Crow.

Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin has been refusing to allow auditors from the Finance Ministry to enter “his court” to check how the institution has used public funds under his watch. For someone whose job description is supposed to be about justice to be able to prevent auditors from examining how state funds are spent is almost like pouring a bottle of red dye over the feathers of white crows.

Fortunately, Slovakia’s judiciary has had an active band of whistleblowers who have written petitions and spoken out in public about what they view as corrupt or unethical practices – and many of them have risked obscure disciplinary proceedings being initiated against them as a result, leading to loss of income, demotion and shaky job security.

Harabin may now be facing a disciplinary proceeding of his own after Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská initiated an action against him before the Constitutional Court. For once, this proceeding might be against the right person, for the right reason, at the right time.


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