Protecting Whistleblowers – January 2018

Protecting Public Sector Whistleblowers

Updated January 2018

 

The activity of whistleblowers within the public sector has been a basic condition for correcting faults. Realizing the fact that whistleblowers are first-line fighters in confronting corruption, we at the Movement for Quality Government act to provide them with support, consultation and legal defense. Whistleblowers are devoted employees and moral individuals, who simply would not approve of corruption and are not able to close their eyes and ignore it. With exceptional courage and mainly with a lot of innocence they address regulators, or law enforcement factors, and report their suspicions of corruption within public authorities of which they are employees. Most of these whistleblowers are forced to pay with a heavy personal price for their bravery: their employers harm their working conditions even to the point of dismissal and sometimes they experience campaigns of harassments and pressures, denial of authority, and social isolation – all in order to make them resign. Not once are they victims of defamation intended to hurt their reputation and reliability and discourage them from continuing their activity against corruption. As a community, it is our duty to defend whistleblowers and take care of their wellbeing, reputation and professional future. This duty is being justified not only by the need to express gratitude toward whistleblowers, but also in order to encourage corruption exposure and preventing a devastating situation by which people will bow their heads and, out of fear, will avoid exposing corruption.

The Movement supports whistleblowers in many ways: legal representation in court, legal advice, correspondence with different factors, representation in front of the State Comptroller, joining the legal procedure in the status of Friend of the Court, help against threats and libel suits, and psychological consultation and support.

Alongside handling cases of specific whistleblowers, the Movement’s Policy and Legislation department acts for changing the attitude toward whistleblowers and for implementing legal amendments aimed to protect their rights.

Ongoing Procedures, Accompanying Whistleblowers: Some Representative Examples out of the Many Cases

Win for Ashdod Port whistleblower!

The court exonerated Yuval Cohen from all accusations claimed against him in the attempt to harass and hurt him following his acts for the sake of proper administration and against corruption and faults in Ashdod Port. He was legally represented by the Movement’s volunteering lawyer Tamar Kedar. During the many years of his working in Ashdod Port, Cohen had been witnessing inappropriate conducts that violated the rules of proper administration, caused severe security faults and waste of public money. Being a first-rate professional, Cohen addressed Ashdod Port’s internal auditor and over a long time disclosed to him a whole array of grave faults and defects in the conduct of different persons within the company – their attitude toward equipment, other employees, and external factors who were in close relations with central figures in the Port. This legal victory was achieved after years of fighting the harassments aimed at Cohen. Due to the ongoing abuse of his rights, the Movement continues supporting him at the present. In 2012 Cohen was awarded the Movement’s Knight of Quality Government for his determination and courage in fighting for the sake of integrity in his workplace.

Once again SLAPP lawsuits against journalists? Supporting journalist Sharon Shpurer

Tel Aviv District Court confirmed the Movement’s joining the defense, as Friend of the Court, in a lawsuit conducted against journalist Sharon Shporer. Shporer is a courageous investigating journalist, who had accomplished many significant debriefings that exposed the problematic activities of some strong key-figures in Israeli economy. These persons decided to use their money and power in order to fight the journalist, who was responsible for exposing them, by filing a lawsuit against her. Suits of this kind have long been a tool of deterring journalists and silencing criticism coming from journalists, whistleblowers and social activists, and of disrupting their public activity. Usually, these suits are being characterized by massive sums of money and by long and tedious procrastination at the court. They were intended to bring a clear-cut message to all of us fighters against corruption: stay away from our business, otherwise you will find yourselves at court. Such lawsuits are dangerous as they intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and other activists. As much as eventually the suits are being rejected, the journalists and whistleblowers are forced to experience a long, exhausting, expensive and fearsome procedure. This is how deterrence against them is being established, even if they won the case. The Movement will not tolerate such a heavy blow on the freedom of speech and journalism, in particular when the focus is on issues concerning the whole public. Therefore, the Movement commits itself to protect and support as best as possible whoever is being sued in this manner.

Attending and supporting whistleblowers at a religious council

Two employees of a religious council reported improper administration and suspicions of executing criminal offenses by other employees. Instead of having the council’s appointed director’s attentiveness, the employees’ complaints were whitewashed. After being summoned to a hearing prior to dismissal, one of them turned to the Movement for support, which has been provided to him regarding the procedures of requesting a protection order at the State Comptroller’s. The other employee was also summoned to a hearing, following which he received a temporary protection order from the Comptroller. After the council’s appointed director attempted to violate this order by worsening the employee’s working conditions and by trying to fire him, the Movement turned to the Comptroller.

 

 

Attending and supporting employees of a Ministry of Social Services Home for Disabled People

Three employees at a Ministry of Social Services directed Home for Disabled People complained to factors at the Ministry about a hostile workplace and about exploiting public resources by other two employees. The complainants received no proper response and one of them was even summoned to a hearing prior to dismissal. Denied help from relevant factors at the Home, the Ministry of Social Services, and the Civil Service Commission, the three asked for the Movement’s help. Currently the Movement operates in several directions regarding this issue, including against attempts of harassing one of the complaining employee by applying disciplinary investigations against him. The Movement also acts for exhausting disciplinary procedures against an employee at the Home who abuses other employees.

Attending and supporting a whistleblower from a northern Kibbutz

A member of a northern Kibbutz reported suspicions of corruption in the financial conduct at the place and then continued reporting other suspicions of corruption in the Kibbutz management and in Galil Elyon (Upper Galilee) regional council. Since consequently he and his family have experienced heavy harassment, he turned to the Movement for help in confronting the Kibbutz. Collaborating with Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic, the Movement currently acts to grant this whistleblower basic social services support.

Supporting whistleblowers in municipalities and local councils

The Movement significantly helps whistleblowers in municipalities and local councils, institutions in which a lot of action is being kept out of the public eye. Among other things, help of the Movement is being provided to (1) a municipality’s kindergartens department’s employee who has been experiencing harassments probably due to her exposing corrupt conduct of her supervisor; (2) an accountant at a local council, who as part of his job located wrongdoings of the council in general and of its head in particular. As result of the accountant’s exposure, the latter was harassed by the local council’s head; (3) a third factor who reported corruptions in a municipality and is defending his source there; the source refrains from reporting directly for fear of increase in the harassment he has been experiencing.

Attending and supporting Rafi Rotem, the Tax Authority whistleblower

The Movement continues attending Rafi Rotem in his struggle against the Tax Authority and through the law enforcement system’s conduct. Rotem’s struggle is focused on the demand to handle the severe suspicions he had exposed, as well as on the attitude he was subjected to following his reporting. Admittedly, the court did not enable the Movement to join the proceedings as Friend of the Court, but the Movement submitted an Abuse of Process legal claim on behalf of Rotem so that lawyer Eliad Shraga attended the proceeding and presented his arguments for relief of Rotem’s punishment. These arguments were taken into account by the judge at the stage of determining the punishment. Recently the Movement’s volunteers have mapped the case in order to examine other means of support and to renew the investigations of the corruption affairs and related conducts of the law enforcement system. The mapping shows that two of the Tax Authority seniors – who are still being employed there – are connected to extremely severe suspicions that are probably relevant also at present. Due to all this data, the Movement asked of the Attorney General of Israel to renew the investigation of suspicions concerning these senior employees.

The Movement applied for a pardon request for Shuki Mish’ol

For many years Mish’ol had been an employee of the Tax Authority until he cooperated with Rafi Rotem and others in filing grievances concerning suspicions of corruption within the Authority’s management. The Authority soon reacted by executing a scare campaign that comprised hurting the complaining employees’ wages and rights. These acts caused some of the employees to be discharged from the Authority. Though together with evidences submitted by Mish’ol and others the police collected 22 crates of evidences of severe corruption affairs and of ties between seniors of the Tax Authority and criminal factors, the case was closed three days after it had arrived in Tel Aviv District State Attorney’s office. Confirmation for this act was given by the then TA District Attorney Ruth David, who currently is being charged with offenses in one of the biggest corruption affairs in the history of Israel. Simultaneously, Ruth David was involved in confirming a covert investigation against Mish’ol under the pretext of “anonymous complaints” arrived at the Attorney’s Office. This investigation was of unusual scope, comprising tracking, wiretapping, cameras transplanting, searching Mish’ol’s home and his parents’ and detaining him for nearly two weeks. According to the investigation, Mish’ol unlawfully handed over private information out of files to which he had access as part of his job; also he did not report an unjustified refund of about ILS 500 for car expenses. Without justifying Mish’ol conduct, this case is about offenses that usually are being dealt with as disciplinary issues. However and rather exceptionally, Mish’ol’s had been criminally prosecuted and was sentenced several months’ imprisonment plus an added fine. By the Movement’s opinion, a criminal procedure such as this one, that was sinfully conceived, has got no right of existence. There is no correlation between Mish’ol’s acts and circumstances and the way he was treated legally, certainly not when conversely there is the manner in which the Tax Authority corruption investigation had been handled. Since this whole story brings about mainly a hard feeling of injustice, the Movement submitted to the President of Israel a clemency request on behalf of Mish’ol. The Movement also introduced the issue to (retired) Judge David Rosen, who is the prosecution system’s Audit Comissioner. In addition, the Movement publicized the details in the social networks, this way raising vast response. It seems that the public pressure did help, since Mish’ol was released from prison after just a month.

Helping Moran Genossar, the Electric Company whistleblower

The Movement continues accompanying and helping Moran Genossar, the Electric Company employee whistleblower, who was dismissed after exposing faults in systems purchased by the Electric Company from Siemens. The latter company is involved in a corruption affair, of which it had already admitted the bribing of seniors in the Electric Company by the sum of $ 20 million. Following the Movement’s interference, the Electric Company’s internal audit announced he will examine the whistleblower’s claims and the issue of his dismissal as well. Indictments against seniors in the Electric Company have already submitted, the flawed systems have been replaced, and in addition the court accepted the Movement’s request to join the legal procedure at the Labor Court in order to present to the court the significant public interest of protecting whistleblowers.

Helping Ma’ayan Agam, Meuhedet Health Services whistleblower

Already in 2006 had Ma’ayan Agam exposed thefts and improper conduct at Meuhedet Health Services. This disclosure caused the conviction of seniors in the Services, among them former Minister of Finance Avraham Hirschson, and had Ma’ayan Agam awarded the President of Israel’s Certificate of Appreciation for 2016. Though the Labor Court determined her returning to work at the Services, it did not succeed: Ma’ayan was forced to leave after being subjected to hostile atmosphere at that very workplace. The Movement tried helping her in finding a new job and in examining claims of her still experiencing harassments.

Ma’ayan Agam is among the Knight of Quality Government Award winners for 2017.

The Police whistleblower Commander Ephrayim Erlich (“Cremeschnitte”) was awarded by the President of Israel

Commander Erlich acted against damaging the integrity inside Israel Police. His exposing of the Parinyan Brothers Affair led to establishing a commission of inquiry – the Zeiler Commission – that led to amending severe fault of the Police conduct. Unfortunately, after disclosing the data, Erlich was subjected to the Police’s harassment and was even exiled for many years to a minor position at the Fire and Rescue Services. After years of the Movement’s struggling for protecting Erlich’s status and rights, he indeed was returned to the police but was not granted an appropriate position. However, recently Erlich was awarded the President of Israel’s Certificate of Appreciation. It is worth noticing, that though the law that enables awarding whistleblowers had been enacted already in the 1990’s, it was only about two years ago and after the Movement’s activity, that it had been actually implemented.

Helping Maxim Derkach, a social worker who exposed improper administration at Israel Prison Service

The Movement has been accompanying Derkach’s case since 2014, when he filed a lawsuit against the Prison Service due to his dismissal. The Movement requested to join the proceedings as Friend of the Court in order to support Derkach and to represent the public interest and the aspects of exposing corruption. This request was accepted and the proceedings continue.

Laws and Bills for Expanding Whistleblowers Protection

In addition to the Movement activity in protecting specific whistleblowers, the Movement has been active in advancing many bills that aimed at the expanding of whistleblowers’ protection. Several bills had already been confirmed and turned into laws. One example is a bill the Movement helped formulating and advanced in collaboration with KM Miki Rosenthal. The bill was intended for expanding the existing law’s narrow definition of “corruption”, the very definition due to which many whistleblowers were deprived of the proper protection they were entitled to by the law. The bill was completely confirmed and turned into a law.

The Movement helped formulating and is advancing other bills that intend to support whistleblowers. One such bill was meant to help whistleblowers serving in security organizations (police, army, jail) that currently are out of the State Comptroller’s authority of helping and protecting whistleblowers. Another bill was supposed to expand the State Comptroller’s authority of providing protection to private suppliers of the state’s Public Service, who encounter corruption in the Service during their work there. One more bill is that of providing the State Comptroller with more enforcement authorities that will make the protection orders he grants the whistleblowers more effective and sturdy, so that whoever violates such an order will be subjected to personally-aimed economic penalty.

Applying the law of Integrity Enhancement

The Movement manages a transverse file to enhance the awareness of the obligations of public authorities in accordance with the law of integrity enhancement, and mainly with the obligation of granting whistleblowers Certificates of Findings. The Movement believes that this obligation will enhance both the investigating of complaints and the defending of whistleblowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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