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National

December 22, 2010

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Why is whistle-blowing Abid Sher Ali suddenly mum?

Why is whistle-blowing Abid Sher Ali suddenly mum?

LAHORE: The 39-year old PML-N legislator Abid Sher Ali, who was the first to accuse his fellow legislators of holding fake degrees, has of late, mysteriously gone quiet on the subject, raising many questions in circles that have supported him throughout his eventful whistle-blowing spree for a good part of this year.
While courts continue to disqualify legislators holding phony educational degrees, the most recent case being that of a PML-N Punjab Assembly member Farah Deeba, Abid Sher Ali continues to remain mum at a juncture when even the degree of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son Abdul Qadir Gilani is being scrutinized by the Punjab University for the last couple of months.
Whistleblowers around the world have frequently faced reprisal from the people they have targeted for a right cause, as was acknowledged during the recent 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference held in Bangkok between November 10 and 13 this year. Also participated by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, the moot had noted: “Whistle-blowing plays a critical role in detecting and preventing corruption and other malpractices. However, rather than being seen as champions of the public good, whistle-blowers are often perceived as disloyal to their employers or even as traitors or snitches. Their disclosures may not be followed-up and they often face reprisal at their workplace against which they are not adequately protected. The need for more effective whistle-blowing and adequate protection of whistleblowers is increasingly recognized. Yet there is a huge potential for more whistle blowing which remains unexploited. The aim of this session is to explore ways of moving the promotion of whistle-blowing to the next level.” In the case of Abid Sher Ali, Education Minister Sardar Assef Ali had submitted a reference against him to the National Assembly Speaker on August 6 this year for allegedly overstepping his mandate.
Earlier, a lot of criticism was hurled against the head of the National Assembly’s standing committee on Education (Abid Sher Ali) by the afore-mentioned elderly minister and many of his other colleagues sitting in country’s legislative houses. Abid’s mission becomes even tougher when one takes into account the fact that whistle-blowers in various corruption-ridden countries like Pakistan are not protected by law and have often been persecuted at will by those involved in wrongdoings. As whistleblowers are commonly seen as selfless martyrs for public interest, Abid stands no exception to the rule as he has been alleged by the Federal Education Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali of pursuing personal glory and fame by raising the issue of phony degrees.
Perched on a privilege position, Abid must otherwise deem himself lucky on a few counts because whistle-blowers have either been bullied at their respective workplaces by both fellow colleagues and their employers, or have faced ‘mobbing’ which is a practice to eliminate such people from an organization. Many have even been assassinated for unveiling what they should not have. For example, an Indian civil servant Satyendra Dubey was assassinated in 2003 after he had accused his employers of resorting to corruption in India’s highway construction projects. In a letter to the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Dubey had revealed some classified information in this regard.
Similarly, a US Department of Defence auditor called Ernest Fitzgerald was fired in 1973 by President Nixon for exposing certain weapon-related details to the Congress. After prolonged litigation, Fitzgerald was reinstated to service and continued to report cost overruns and military contractor fraud, including discovery that the US Air Force was being charged $400 for hammers and $600 for toilet seats.
In Canada, a government official servant, Duncan Edmonds, was fired by his country’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1984 for reporting that Defence Minister Robert Coates had visited a West German strip club with confidential NATO documents in his possession. Defence Minister Coates was also consequently asked to resign. However, there is no denying the fact that a bit of legal protection for whistle-blowers does exist in countries like the United States and England. The first US law adopted specifically to protect whistleblowers was the Lloyd-La Follette Act of 1912. Although it guaranteed the right of federal employees to furnish information to the United States Congress, most American courts have found it difficult to ensure at times that such whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation.
Under most US Federal statutes related to whistle blowing, in order to be considered a whistle-blower, the federal employee must have a solid reason to believe that his/her employer has violated some regulation. Despite the fact that the US law provides some protection to the whistle-blowers, there have been many cases where people have been terminated, suspended, demoted and subjected to harsh wage garnishment by their employers for opening their mouths. A research conducted by The News reveals even in the US, most whistleblower protection laws provide for only limited remedies for employment losses if whistle-blower retaliation is proven, but a law definitely exists there to promise some respite to these people having no ordinary nerves. It is significant to note that when the US House of Representatives had passed the Whistle-blower Protection Act of 2007, the then President George Bush, had pledged to veto the bill if it was enacted into law by the Congress. Bush had then cited national security concerns, as the basis of his decision.
In the UK, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides a framework of legal protection for whistle-blowers from victimization and dismissal from jobs.
While whistle-blowers have mostly suffered for unearthing the wrongdoings around them, there have been a few lucky ones who have been rewarded for their fearlessness and gallantry. To quote one rare example in this context, a US Sandia National Laboratories staffer was sacked for bringing to light the fact that a group of hackers was penetrating the computer networks at major US military installations and government agencies to access sensitive information. The unfortunate employee, Shawn Carpenter, told his superiors about the development but he was directed not to share the information with anyone. An extremely concerned Shawn Carpenter, however, went on to voluntarily work with the US Army and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to address the problem. When his company discovered his actions, he was shown the door forthwith. In 2007, a New Mexico State Court had awarded him $4.7 million in damages from his employers-the Sandia Corporation— for firing him with a malicious intent.

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