Hungary’s Justice Minister Announces Whistleblower Initiative

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Hungary’s Justice Minister Announces Whistleblower Initiative

Budapest, Hungary. October 20, 2008.  The Hungarian Minister of Justice, the Hon. Tibor Draskovics, announced his government will take action to work with NGOs and international experts to develop effective protections for whistleblowers. “We are honored to be a part of a new international effort to support whistleblowers,” said Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center.

The Justice Minister’s statement of support for whistleblowers came just days after several meetings in which Mr. Kohn briefed high government officials.  Mr. Kohn explained that protecting whistleblowers would enable Hungary to ensure honesty and transparency in government contracts.

The Hungarian government is taking action in light of a detailed report by Transparency International on corruption in Hungary.  The report concluded that “effective” whistleblower protections would be essential to the Hungarian Government’s effort to end corruption.  The report noted “certain issues of crucial importance appear under almost every pillar as the most important deficiencies to be addressed for a better anti-corruption system” and listed “no effective protection of whistle-blowers” as the number one issue.  Based on the report’s conclusions, U.S. Ambassador April Foley invited Mr. Kohn to Hungary to brief ministers, members of parliament and NGO officials regarding whistleblower legislation.

Mr. Kohn made a formal presentation advocating the adoption of whistleblower protections before the Hungarian Government’s Anti-Corruption Coordination Board.  Coordination Board membership is comprised of representatives from government and non-governmental offices including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the State Audit Office. Justice Minister Tibor Draskovics, the highest law enforcement official in Hungary, serves as Chairman of the Board.

Mr. Kohn met privately with Justice Minister Draskovics, the National Development and Economy Minister the Hon. Gordon Bajnai, other high ranking officials, and Members of Parliament representing the country’s four major political parties.  Mr. Kohn’s presentations outlined how the U.S. False Claims Act makes it possible for whistleblowers to expose corruption in public contracting and how the Act can serve as a model for Hungarian legislation.

NWC Executive Director Stephen Kohn issued the following statement concerning his visit to Hungary:

“Whistleblower protection is a cornerstone of democracy.  The free flow of information from insiders, is essential for oversight.  Only through meaningful whistleblower protections can corruption be detected and eradicated. Ambassador April Foley provided strong leadership for this important initiative.  Her vision made it possible to ensure that all levels of the Hungarian society could learn about the full benefits of whistleblower protection.  The Ambassador’s efforts in Hungary should serve as a model for educating the international community on the need to protect whistleblowers in any meaningful attempt to combat corruption.”

Transparency International Hungary Executive Director Noemi Alexa expressed optimism about the future of whistleblower protection in Hungary:

“In Hungary, people who report corruption within the government and the private sector are perceived as snitches of the Communist era instead of as defenders of the public interest.  It will be long process to establish a system for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, but we have taken the first steps.  We appreciate the assistance of the United States in raising the issue of whistleblower protection and providing an opportunity to define the cornerstones of whistleblower legislation.  I am convinced that we will make progress on whistleblower legislation and find a Hungarian equivalent for the term whistleblower.”

The National Whistleblowers Center’s PowerPoint presentation prepared for the Anti-Corruption Commission can be found at here 8.00 Mb.

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