“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing” Albert Einstein
Dear readers, last week I looked at the issue of whistle blowing by bank staff in banks and how real it is on the ground. This follows the warning given by the Governor of the Bank of Ghana that a whistle blowing policy is being fine-tuned to encourage the general public to pass on confidential information on malpractices in banks for thorough investigations to be undertaken and appropriate sanctions applied. The Governor said that the move was part of a range of measures due to be introduced into the banking sector. The initiatives are meant to promote transparency and accountability in the entire financial sector.
Commenting on the issue, Mr. Asiedu-Mante, a former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana, said although a lot of infractions occurred in some of the banks, but the BoG is mostly unable to identify them, hence the need for a strong whistle-blowing policy.
He recalled an incident where he and his team of supervisors at the central bank had examined and okayed the operations of a bank, only to be alerted by an informant that someone in the bank was siphoning money out for personal use.
“That was like whistleblowing and it put me on the alert and we immediately started investigating,” he said, declining to go into details.
“Some people are so clever that they can hide things. Others can collude but if you get a God-fearing person in there to alert the supervisor, the lead can be followed and it can unravel those behind the dubious deals,” he added.
“In this instance, we saw the dominant role of shareholders who exerted undue influence on management of the banks, leading to poor lending practices.
“This was also reinforced by weak risk management systems and poor oversight responsibility by the boards of directors,” he said.
Given that the inactions of the management and directors sometimes led to bank collapse, the former deputy governor said it was possible that the Bank of Ghana was now trying to prevent a repeat through a whistle-blowing policy…. Source: 14th Dec. edition of Business News.
This means that if bank staff are not blowing the whistle, the central bank will see to it that the general public is going to be encouraged and empowered to do that! Before then let us examine some of the problems that internal staff have to battle with in terms of whistle blowing despite the fact that many banks have well- documented whistle blowing policies.
Bank staff at crossroads
Standing at the crossroads, a potential internal whistle blower will think twice, and with much procrastination, ask him/herself the following pertinent questions:
“What will I get in return for blowing the whistle?”
“Will I be exposed as a traitor or a back stabber?”
“Shall I discuss with my colleagues in the office? What will they think of me?”
“What will happen to me and my family?”
“Am I ready for the consequences? I have young children.”
“How trust-worthy are the people I am reporting to?”
“But I swore an oath of secrecy, so what does this imply?”
I remember the case of a whistle blower who reported a case to the CEO of a company, thinking he was doing the best thing. Unfortunately he was talking to the wrong person. He became an outcast and he had to resign from the job.
The Psychological and Ethical Conundrum
As workers attempt to address concerns, they are sometimes met with a wall of silence and hostility by management. These are some of the effects that follow:
- Complaint of persistent distress.
- Paranoid behaviour at work.
- Acute anxiety.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Increase in stress-related illnesses.
The stresses involved in whistleblowing can be huge. As such, workers remain afraid to blow the whistle, in fear that they will not be believed or they have lost faith in believing that anything will happen if they do speak out. This fear may indeed be justified, because if a person feels threatened by the whistle blowing, he or she may resort to firing back and even resort to rumour-mongering about exaggerated offences supposed to have been caused by the whistle blower. They can even describe the person as unstable and dig into the person’s family life and report confidential matters which have no bearing on the job. Woe betide you if you happen to be of a certain category of staff sometimes misrepresented as “against”. Can you imagine cases of single or divorced women being accused of witchcraft, trouble makers, mentally unstable and even menopausal ….Ha, ha… This technique, labelled as ‘gaslighting’ is a common, unconventional approach used by organizations to “manage” employees who cause difficulty by raising concerns.
The Social Impact: Isolation and Dismissal
In extreme cases, this technique involves the organization or manager proposing that the complainant’s mental health is unstable. Organizations also often attempt to ostracise and isolate whistleblowers by undermining their concerns by suggesting that these are groundless, carrying out inadequate investigations or by ignoring them altogether. Where whistleblowers persist in raising their concerns, they increasingly risk detriments such as dismissal. Following dismissal, whistleblowers may struggle to find further employment due to damaged reputations, poor references and blacklisting. The social impact of whistleblowing through loss of livelihood (and sometimes pension), and family strain may also impact on whistleblowers’ psychological well-being. Whistleblowers who continue to pursue their concerns may also face long battles with official bodies such as regulators and government departments. Some whistleblowers suffer great injustice that may never be acknowledged or rectified. This deters others from coming forward with concerns. Thus, poor practices remain hidden behind a wall of silence, and prevent any organization from experiencing improvements expected from rectifying the misdeeds.
Upon all that I have stated above, will you blow the whistle? I am sure ninety percent of readers will say no. Of course unless you are the type that is seriously “covered in the anointing”, as the Christians say, and ready to face any consequences. That is where the issue of ethics come in.
The Ethical Factor
The ethical implications of whistleblowing can be negative as well as positive. However, sometimes employees may blow the whistle as an act of revenge. Ah…. that is a big no, no. Let’s say, perhaps you were passed over during promotion time, you are suspended or even dismissed, or you are simply disgruntled with a perceived but not true unfairness. Management feels whistle blowers are disloyal to the company…how can a staff report confidential matters to outsiders?
The ethics of Edward Snowden’s actions have been widely discussed and debated in news media and academia worldwide. Edward Snowden released classified intelligence to the American people in an attempt to allow Americans to see the inner workings of the government. Whistle blowing is really an act of bravery.
Whistle blowing by the general public
However, whistleblowing in the public sector organization is more likely to result in criminal charges and possible custodial sentences. A whistleblower who chooses to accuse a private sector organization or agency is more likely to face termination and legal and civil charges.
Whistleblowing is a topic of ongoing ethical debate. Some see whistleblowing as unethical for breaching confidentiality, especially in industries that handle sensitive client or patient information. Legal protection can also be granted to protect whistleblowers, but that protection is subject to many stipulations. Hundreds of laws grant protection to whistleblowers, but stipulations can easily cloud that protection and leave whistleblowers vulnerable to retaliation and legal trouble. These days advancement in technology and communication has made whistle blowers very easy to track down. Whistleblowers frequently face reprisal, sometimes at the hands of the organization or group they have accused, sometimes from related organizations, and sometimes under law.
Modern methods are currently being used for whistle blower protection. Whistleblowers that may be at risk of those they are exposing are now using encryption methods and anonymous content sharing software to protect their identity.
Preventing whistle blowing:
As indicted last week, I have never been an advocate for whistle blowing. In most cases, they don’t end well both for the complainant as well as the accused. It becomes a messy situation. Let us see what both Board of Directors, management and staff of banks can do to avoid the mess and the ripple effect of whistle blowing:
- Check your Management-Staff Health “Barometer.” (This can be more effective if done by an external consultant)
- Re-examine your policies, especially the conditions of service.
- Re-examine your credit policy, portfolio and channel of approvals.
- How is your procurement policy? Examine recent procurement practices for any influences from stakeholders.
- Are staff meetings regular? Any informal appraisals?
- Any mentorship programs for staff?
- Appraisal should be both ways: (up-down and vice versa). Encourage and empower staff to be assertive and make recommendations for the improvement of their functions.
- Is information flow to the Board symmetrical or asymmetrical? Ae there some details missing in management reports?
- Check your staff attrition rate and the causes given. Where are your staff leaving to? Are they leaving because of certain policies?
- Are exited staff bad-mouthing the bank? Are the
- Are you checking the exit interviews?
- Are staff durbars effective or do you feel a culture of silence brewing?
It is well. May 2018 be your year of CoC…. Culture of Collaboration
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.