Why legislation on whistle-blower protection is good for Oman

Gains made by the Sultanate in combatting financial impropriety and corruption of various kinds through legislative measures, prosecutorial actions and successful convictions have earned Oman higher grades on international indexes that rank countries based on corruption perceptions.
But while the government has no doubt embraced a formidable array of laws and regulations to affirm its zero-tolerance of financial malfeasance, it is still missing a key piece of legislation that would go a long way in bolstering the nation’s drive against corruption, say experts.
Absent from its statute books is legislation that enforces the protection of whistle-blowers — a move that a growing number of countries around the world are weighing primarily to buttress their ambitions to position themselves as international hubs for finance.
Moves are also afoot in the GCC as well as authorities strive to enhance their standing as regional financial centres.
It is true that none of the GCC states have laws in place to protect whistle-blowers against potential retribution for their actions. But according to a new survey, titled ‘Financial Crime in the Middle East and North Africa 2018’, jointly conducted by Thomson Reuters and Deloitte, whistle-blower protection is being keenly looked at by regulators in the region
“It is not surprising that regulation enforcing whistle-blowing protection is growing around the world,” a newly published report on the survey said. “We are in no doubt that this trend will impact business in the MENA region in the short term. As certain centres within the region work to increase their competitive edge against the traditional financial hubs for business, they are very likely to align their financial regulation.
Centres such as Dubai, Doha, Cairo, Casablanca, Riyadh and Tunis are increasingly competing on a global stage for recognition and of this list, only two — Dubai and Tunis — are actively addressing whistle-blower protection, giving them an edge against their regional associates. In November 2017, the Saudi Shura Council announced plans to discuss a proposal for whistle-blower protection,” the report stated.
Undeterred by the absence of whistle-blower-related legislation, a growing number of large and prominent public and private sector organisations in the Sultanate have already embraced robust policies and programmes that encourage employees to blow the whistle on perceived financial impropriety and malpractice.
The list includes Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), Oman LNG, Orpic, The State General Reserve Fund (SGRF), W S Atkins, Bank Muscat, and so on. Through the introduction of a comprehensive code of conduct applicable to employees, contractors, suppliers and service providers, companies have sought to tamp down — and with growing success — on potential wrongdoing in their organisations. But according to experts, overarching state legislation that safeguards whistle-blowers from possible retaliation will add legal heft to the broad campaign against potential corruption. After all, they argue, legal protections for whistle-blowers are vital because their actions ultimately serve the public interest.
But what is whistle-blowing? It is defined as disclosure of information about suspicions of wrongdoing that may harm the organisation — public or private sector — either financially, operationally, materially or reputationally.
“Whistle-blowing applies to all kinds of unethical behaviours, such as corruption, bribery, nepotism, and so on,” says Jose Chacko, Partner — Forensic Technology Services, at Horwath MAK Ghazali, part of the worldwide network of audit, accounting and professional services firms. “Whistle-blowing policies should apply to all private and public enterprises of all sizes. It should also be applied to all stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, contractors and even directors and shareholders.”
Although whistle-blower protection is not explicitly enshrined in current legislation, the tenor of various laws and statutes espouses the adoption of whistle-blowing policies by all kinds of organisations — public or private, he points out.
“The Omani government is serious about establishing a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and bribery.
Even though a separate piece of legislation on whistle-blower protection is not yet in place, the intention is well established through various statutes, such as the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Law of Public Funds, and so on. Oman has also signed and adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2014.”
Organisations that adopt whistle-blowing policies are better placed to unearth corruption and malpractice within their establishments, according to Chacko. Instances of malpractice include, but not limited to, fraud and financial fraud, abuse of powers given to any position, data breaches and attempt to defraud the company, misuse of confidential information, intentional violation of policies and procedures, and so on.
“Basically, an effective whistle-blowing policy is closely associated with a Strong Code of Conduct. The implementation of a whistle-blowing policy will show top management’s commitment and sincerity in establishing organisational culture along with other policies to improve organisational ethics,” he noted.
Some companies, seeking to enhance their anti-corruption credentials, are signing up to the new ISO 37001 Anti-Bribery Management Standard, which includes anonymous reporting as a key prerequisite for certification. The ISO 37001 Standard protects those blowing the whistle on malpractice, Chacko added.