With recurring reports of misconduct and lack of accountability in the global charitable sector, much reliance is placed on ‘whistleblowing’ as an effective form of discovery. In spite of the legal protection for this form of reporting, there is little evidence of its wide use. A member of NZARC’s advisory panel was recently approached for his advice by a career association executive, who had vacated a Chief Executive position on account of her unease with the direction of the organisation under a new chairman.

She has since been approached by some of the organisation’s stakeholders, encouraging her to make her concerns public as a means to restore the confidence of affected parties. Without trying to influence her, our adviser made her aware of recent and relevant similar examples. Such instances, despite having legitimate grounds, have had serious consequences for the ‘whitslebower’ in terms of employability and career prospects.

The ‘whistlebower’ had expected peer support, however, close associates and colleagues distanced themselves and former employers were no longer forthcoming with references in the search for further employment.

A recent case concerns the Te Roopu Taurima Trust, which is a charitable service provider under contract to the Ministry of Health and in receipt of considerable amounts of public funding. Without going into the details of the alleged serious misconduct, it is on record that two senior staff members reported their concerns to the Ministry, anticipating that this would take its course and achieve speedy rectifying action.

Contrary to expectation, this had the reverse effect in that officers in the Ministry made the trustees aware of the allegations, but took no further immediate action. This resulted in the instant dismissal of the two ‘whistlebowing’ staff members. It is a sad fact that to this day they had not had the benefit of access to restorative justice while the matter is still under investigation. It is interesting to note that it required the intervention by Maori Television who approached the Minister of Health to set in motion a forensic audit by international accounting firm, PWC (which is ongoing). The affected two former staff members, who acted in good faith and in the public interest, are unlikely to be reinstated and may not be readily employable at a senior level in a comparable NFP – unless there is a noticeable change in attitude.

We therefore ask how is the integrity of the ‘whistlebower’ protected? If a concerned employee is prepared to stake their reputation against the perpetrators of serious misconduct frequently, where is their legal protection? Not to mention the potential cost to the tax payer and/or the expense of charitable contributors to the organisation under the spotlight. On these grounds the result may be that many such cases will remain unreported and serve to denigrate the perception of charities as deserving recipients of donations and public funded service providers. And, as a sector, where do we stand in support of the ‘whistleblower’?