Remarks at the Conference on “Protection of Whistleblowers at the Central and Local Level”

Good morning Minister Kuburović, Ambassador Fabrizi, Ambassador Orizio, Mr. Ilić, Mr. Radomirović and distinguished guests.

Corruption is a global problem and one of the greatest obstacles to economic growth and social progress around the world.  It feeds upon apathy. It strips hard-working citizens of opportunity.  It undermines faith in the government.  It increases the cost of your healthcare, education, and daily life.  It raises your taxes. It scares away investments and jobs – forcing people to operate in the shadow economy.  Through all of this, corruption ravages the potential of a generation, as it drives a country’s talented youth to seek opportunities elsewhere.

According to a 2018 nationwide survey conducted by USAID, corruption is among the most significant concerns for Serbians.  More than 80% of Serbs polled believe that corruption impacts Serbian society and politics from “moderately” to “very much.”  There are credible reports of serious corruption in every major sector of society: education, healthcare, construction, transportation, and the judicial system, to name just a few.

At the same time, very few are ready to report corruption when they see it – some out of fear, some because they don’t believe anything will be changed.

Those brave people who call out corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse – whistleblowers – are not the enemy.  It is essential that we empower them and protect them.  This requires the promotion of robust systems to ensure that information disclosed by whistleblowers is carefully assessed, thoroughly investigated, and appropriately handled by administrative and prosecutorial authorities.

Implementing fair and effective processes for whistleblowing is as important for exposing corruption as it is for its prevention.  Legal protection of whistleblowers is a fairly new concept worldwide, and Serbia is advanced in this area.  This conference marks the fourth anniversary of Serbia’s Whistleblower Protection Law, adopted in 2015. We are proud to have assisted the Government of Serbia to develop its law on whistleblower protection.  That law is considered by experts to be the world’s “gold standard.”  Serbia should be proud of its law.  And, during today’s conference, you will hear directly from whistleblowers.  You’ll hear success stories, including how information provided by a whistleblower was used to develop a successful criminal prosecution, a practice often used by American prosecutors.

You’ll also hear about the challenges.  Much more work needs to be done.  People who have information about wrongdoing must trust institutions to give them a voice, and equally, to protect them.  So how is this done?  By raising public awareness of the need to report corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse.  By increasing the capacity and knowledge of persons authorized to receive whistleblower complaints.  By enhancing legal protections for whistleblowers in the courts.  By using information provided by whistleblowers in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

This past year, USAID supported local governments to build their capacity to execute the law.  In ongoing cooperation with Pištaljka and Tom Devine, an international expert for whistleblowing protection, we developed guidelines for local governments to establish structures and procedures to receive and act on whistleblowers’ reports.  So far, we have trained representatives from 35 local governments to appropriately receive and manage whistleblower allegations, understand the scope and limits of their functions, and take steps to provide adequate protection to whistleblowers.  We will continue with these efforts and provide all necessary support for reinforcing whistleblower protections.

Corruption is a major challenge that all governments face.  But there is global experience that can be used in addressing this challenge.  The United States stands ready to provide continued support to Serbia’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts.