Oman


Sunday Beat: Do not punish the whistle blowers, protect them



Whistle blowers fear for their careers if they raise concerns or try to blow the cover of their unprofessional colleagues. Most such whistle blowers are intimidated by senior managers in the workplaces or are even sacked if they persist.

They are also discriminated against by employers and treated badly to warn others not to go further. It happens in the public as well as private sector. A whistle blower can be in the management or may be just a clerk and in a position to spot dishonest practices.

Some companies start with a 'rewarding' approach by promoting the whistle blowers or letting them share the 'spoils' to keep them quiet. If that fails, they pressurize such people to leave. From the retail, financial to mega projects, whistle blowers are edged out, ensuring that unethical practices reign supreme.

Customers are duped and so are the government's coffers.

In theory, whistle blowers risk their careers while the corrupt feather their retirement nests. They see books being fiddled with, performances inflated and quality compromised to produce overstated annual reports. These abuses are widespread because they are deeply entrenched in the local working culture. Those who promote it are protected by decision makers who want to see a higher margin of profit. But not all unethical practices are profit driven or encourage corruption. Lack of professionalism in the workplaces also contributes to malpractices.

Accountants with little experience, doctors who should not be practicing medicine or engineers with suspect qualifications and even teachers with forged papers regularly escape the net of scrutiny.

Sometimes, for unscrupulous employers, it is part of a cost saving scheme to survive the fierce business competition. Good professionalism cannot be compromised or lack of it covered up and tolerated. To stop this, Board of Directors, whether in the private or public sector, must foster a culture where mistakes are acknowledged. If they are corrected early, many calamities can be avoided. For instance, bridges would not develop cracks so early after these are commissioned or doctors would not end up removing a wrong organ. These kinds of mistakes are spotted by well meant whistle blowers who must be encouraged and protected to avoid loss of life and waste of money.

Transparency
Bad practices happen all the time but these must be stopped in time before they spread further. This can only happen with greater transparency and above all, the removal of the fear factor, to encourage those who want to see progress. The staff must be encouraged to speak freely if they see something wrong. In private companies, consumer confidence is hard to mend if businesses continue to pull wool over the eyes of customers when they offer substandard products at higher prices. In the public sector, services managed by the government must be run by professionals who know what they are doing, not appointed just to fill up positions.

As Oman continues to rely heavily on international investments, global companies aiming to set up businesses in the country will be looking for partners who have no hidden private agendas. Otherwise, investors will continue with their perception that Oman is still in the outer zone of business transparency. Global markets have nothing to lose but will continue to sidestep Oman to invest their money elsewhere.

Lack of complete business transparency and exemplary work ethics are the reason why the economic expansion has been slow in the last 40 years. For 40 years, the diversification away from oil dependency has not really taken place in a big way.

International investors find Oman politically very stable and it has been a plus point for many years. However, while it is still an envy of many of our neighbours, it is not anymore a deciding factor. Tough government action against frauds, whether professional or financial, always help but work ethics are better imposed and monitored by peers.

If office colleagues feel intimidated, they can be encouraged to blow the whistle privately instead of reporting it directly to the immediate head.  Many countries now have a hotline that whistle blowers can use anonymously to report against frauds. If it is a standard practice elsewhere, why it shouldn't be here? Separate hotlines should be established for medical practices, educational institutions, the tender board, corporate offices, the stock exchange and even consumer protection agency.

To get in touch: saleh@timesofoman.com

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