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Whisteblowing in Croatia

Submitted by on 15 Apr 2014 – 16:07

By Dr. Snjezana Vasiljevic, M.Phil (Cantab), Assistant Professor, University of Zagreb/Faculty of Law

Snjezana Vasiljevic

“Zviždač” is the Croatian expression for the term whistleblower.  The term whistle blowing is a relatively new term in Croatia. The term whistleblower is widespread in public but people are still not familiar with the expression. The first whistleblower to gain great media attention was Ankica Lepej, an employee of the Zagrebacka Bank, who disclosed that Ankica Tudjman, the wife of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, had made a 239,000 German Marks deposit and that her husband, Franjo Tudjman, had not mentioned the money in his property card. She got fired from the company.Croatian legislation is still not focusing on whistle blowing in particular but there have been some intensions to amend the current legislation in order to improve protection for whistle blowing. The Republic of Croatia, as a party to the Civil Law Convention on Corruption, is obliged to provide effective remedies for persons who have suffered damage as a result of acts of corruption. These remedies are ensured through the general provisions of the Civil Obligation Act on the compensation of damages as well as through provisions from other relevant legislation (The Civil Service Act, the Courts Act, the Act on the State Attorney’s Office, the Police Act and the Labour Act).

The Republic of Croatia has a developed legal framework guaranteeing the preconditions for success in the fight against corruption but a specific anti-corruption Act and specific legislation on whistleblowers do not exist. In past, there has not been the political will to insert the protection of whistleblowers into anti-corruption legislation, nor serious attempt to draft regulations in order to protect whistleblowers. The Witness Protection Act 2003 provides for whistleblower protection, although it is very vaguely formulated. In December 2009, the Croatian Parliament passed the new Labour Act, which contains a provision securing whistleblower protection against dismissal for individuals who have reported an instance of corruption in good faith. According to the Civil Service Act 2005 (amended in 2007 and 2008), Article 4, Paragraph 2, also applies to civil servants, thus indirectly providing civil servants with whistleblower protection. In 2013, the draft Law on whistleblowers protection was sent to the parliamentary procedure but it is hard to predict its adoption in the upcoming period. There are no official figures on the incidence of whistle blowing specifically, nor is there research on this topic. There are only official figures on complaints on professional behaviour of civil servants.

The most common type of attitude towards whistle blowing in the press is positive and supportive, the press consider them as heroes, but most whistleblowers claim that they would never go through the same experience again. The only discussion on whistle blowing cases and their reporting to the police is present in the media. Many laws recognize the importance of disclosure to the public including the media as a last worst case scenario. The media’s role in whistle blowing is also recognized by the generally accepted principle that they should have a special privilege to protect their source from disclosure. Thus, if the media have the possibility to hide the identity of its sources, then whistle blowing is possible.

On the other hand, if the source has to be disclosed, whistle blowing is not promoted. The national media is regularly reporting whistle blowing cases depending on sources available in each of the cases that show up in the public domain. The Association of Whistleblowers provides assistance for reporting corruption or malpractices. They are providing advice to assists victims and speak in public about concrete cases.

Transparency International is aiming at the suppression of corruption, and it provides advisory assistance for people who report corruption or malpractices and serves as an independent disclosure channel. In order to protect the privacy of the users of the services of the free of charge telephone line, citizens have the right to report a case anonymously. The Association for the protection from bullying of victims, founded in 2005, is aimed at protection against discrimination and moral harassment at the workplace. The Association for protection from bullying deals with victims on a daily basis who suffer from different forms of discrimination and moral harassment in the workplace and those who reveal corruption and malpractices in both the public and private sectors, or who are victimized because they reveal malpractices in the workplace. The Association for protection from bullying is providing advice to assist victims and speaks in public about concrete cases.

Protection for whistle-blowers can be found in the Croatian Criminal Code, Labour Act and Civil Service Act. Croatian legislation does not expressly define the concept of whistle blowing. In Croatia, the only existing provision regarding the protection of what could be likened to a whistleblower is linked to corruption-related offences. The rights of whistleblowers in particular cases are impossible to analyze because there are no legally-binding verdicts on whistleblowers in Croatia. It appears that there is insufficient awareness-raising in this regard. In 2013, the Croatian Parliament called for specific measures to raise the quality of whistleblower protection. The Ministry of Justice is currently working on an analysis of the implementation of the existing legal framework. It has also published guidelines on whistle blowing and the potential protection of whistleblowers.