A Conversation with Mevludin Džindo, Assistant Director of Bosnia’s Anti-Corruption Agency
Bosnia and Herzegovina made history in 2014, becoming the first country in the world to develop a whistleblower protection system designed to protect whistleblowers before workplace retaliation gets out of control, and without the need to go to court to exercise their rights.
The Law on Whistleblower Protection in the Institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina has become an example not just within Southeast Europe, but worldwide. The law provides legal protections to state-level employees that are backed up by financial penalties for perpetrators of retaliation.
The government official who oversees Bosnia’s revolutionary whistleblower protection system is Mevludin Džindo, Assistant Director of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of the Fight against Corruption (APIK).
Marija Rajić of the Southeast Europe Coalition for Whistleblower Protection sat down with Džindo in his Sarajevo office for an inside peek at one of the world’s most successful whistleblower protection systems.
Marija Rajić: Bosnia’s whistleblower protection law took effect in January 2014. Overall, how well would you say it is being implemented so far?
Mevludin Džindo: Our whistleblower law is one of the few legal solutions in Bosnia that has worked really well since the very day it came into force. The main reason is that we came up with clear and strong bylaws in collaboration with the courts and the Ministry of Justice. This gave us a very good opportunity to follow through on what the law dictates.
Importantly, our agency, APIK, has a special unit in charge of enforcing the law. Ensuring that the law works at a high level and in a timely way is one of our key work principles.
M.R.: What are some of the keys in making the law work well in practice?
M.D.: Cooperation within the government is very important. Working closely with the Ministry of Justice, we carefully review every retaliation complaint and ensure that whistleblowers receive the protections they are entitled to under the law. Upholding their rights is our priority.
Importantly, our law allows employees to apply for whistleblower protection status even if they suspect detrimental actions could be taken against them. This means that they do not have to suffer through being fired or demoted before we can step in and protect them from reprisals.
It is also important to recognize that our law has financial penalties that can be levied if an institution’s director ignores an order from our agency to reinstate a victimized whistleblower, or who does not comply with the. Directors of institutions are personally liable if they do not follow the law, so this provides a strong incentive to protect whistleblowers properly.
M.R.: So far, how many employees have been protected from retaliation?
M.D.: As of today we have had 12 requests for protected whistleblower status. Unfortunately we had to deny eight requests for the simple reason that the applicants were not included in the category of persons covered by the law. Three applications were approved and one is now under consideration.
M.R.: In your view, which case has worked out the best so far, and why specifically?
M.D: We had one case of reporting corruption within the Indirect Taxation Authority that worked out very well. All information on the case is now publicly available. An employee reported serious corruption offenses, and alongside the report requested whistleblower status protection. After thoroughly analyzing the case, APIK granted him protected status.
Despite his status as a protected whistleblower, the employee who reported corruption remained suspended from his job. APIK was informed of this, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice discussed the overall situation and determined this was a gross violation of the rights of a protected whistleblower. We stepped in and directed the Taxation Authority to reinstate the employee.
This was the first time under our new whistleblower protection law that an employee was reinstated. It is important to point out that the administration of the Taxation Authority eventually followed APIK’s instructions, acted very professionally, and timely fulfilled our request to return the man to his job.
M.R.: What kind of learning curve had to be overcome – in order to educate public institutions and their employees about the new law and new system?
M.D: This law covers 22,000 employees in 75 state-level institutions. When the bylaws were adopted and the law came into force, the first step was create a network of contact points within these institutions.
Under the law, all state-level institutions must adopt internal rules for reporting corruption and protecting whistleblowers. This requirement is very important, so that all employees know how to exercise their rights, and all directors understand their responsibilities. We developed uniform internal regulations and made them available to all institutions – all of which eventually adopted the regulations.
Today all 75 institutions speak collectively when it comes to protecting whistleblowers. At a conference last year, we many of the contact points and once again, through live discussion, overviewed all aspects of the law and the system. Because of this open communication within our government, we have had positive results.
M.R.: What are your hopes of new laws being passed at the entity level within Bosnia, and which entities?
M.D: This June we held a conference in Sarajevo to discuss how to enact effective whistleblower protection mechanisms within all levels of government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The primary job of our agency is making sure these new laws are, in the broadest possible sense, close to the existing state law, because it is functional and applicable. Our only fear is disharmony among the regulations, so we proactively involved to try to prevent this.
It is the responsibility of all levels of government to adopt these laws. We are examining the draft laws and providing expert support develop them further. Our aim is that everyone who reports corruption is adequately protected, at all levels of government.
M.R.: What advice can you give to other countries considering a whistleblower protection law? What are the keys for them to consider?
M.D: It is important to have strong mechanisms that also serve as clear guidelines, and it must be clear who is in charge of enforcing the law. These mechanisms should include penalties for violations, clear definitions of how to provide protection from retaliation, and effective bylaws and rules that fully comply with the law.
There must be effective legal and institutional frameworks. Above all, it is important to have professional lines of communication among everyone involved.
Bosnia can be a great example for all countries in the region, since our system is actually working. Anyone can visit our agency’s website and become familiar with what we are doing – all of our capacities and knowledge are available to everyone.
Our common goal is that Southeast Europe becomes an environment in which whistleblowers finally feel secure.