Entrench culture of whistleblowing


Whistle blowing is a strategic matter. FILE PHOTO | NMG

It takes a special kind of person to blow the whistle on organisational wrongdoing. Indeed, what does that person look like? They have a deep and ingrained sense of right and wrong, so deep that it literally offends them to see theft or moral disintegration.

In fact, that level of objection needs to be visceral. For anyone can feel miserable when they realise they spent their youth training to be a doctor and now patients are dying because the hospital’s CEO is taking bribes and getting substandard computers at over-inflated prices - or whatever the scam is.

Some, at the extreme end of probity, just get out of the system when they see what it is, the swamp life, the low-life, the reality of Kenya’s corruption, with its damaging of innocents for craven, illegal gains.

Others ‘adapt’. They often just accept the imperfection of humanity, and those young doctors find their own way to do what they can for patients along the way. But that breeds resentment, anger, even hatred. For, what kind of robot can watch a patient dying for lack of blood, or oxygen, and feel totally nothing? See the family weeping. Watch a bright child go, or a brilliant young youth. There will be anger, the bitter taste of injustice.

Yet even as the upright watch the results of the plundering, how often do they get to see the dirty deeds, or any proof of them? Indeed, what can they even prove? It’s different for staff in procurement or accounts: they know which and where. But they are part of it.

However, for leaders who are looking, and themselves burn on wrongdoing, a lot can be discovered. People will explain, if asked and offered privacy. And even before the talking begins, numbers can reveal a great deal.

I knew one CEO who transformed his hospital from losses to profits. He spotted the scale of his 'leakage problem' with the figures coming to him for buying sugar. He realised his hospital was paying twice what he would pay if he just went and bought the sugar across the road in the supermarket. And so began a sweep away of corrupt staff until sugar could be bought at prevailing sugar prices.

In fact, reference pricing has always been a handier tool than is credited, or institutionally used.

But few outside accounts and top management know what an organisation paid for its sugar, or its computers, its medicinal drugs, or its paper.

Yet people still get wind when a colleague is taking extra funds to expedite work, or selling a company’s goods out of the back door. And it happens everywhere.

My field is the media. And you’re reading this in a print newspaper. Now, I am sure of Business Daily’s probity, in fact. But I have worked throughout the Kenyan media, and I learned a lot from people just explaining things to me, or helping me a little with some clues on where to look.

I learned that, elsewhere, there are picture editors selling photos to third parties that their own correspondents took and sent to them. But they don’t pay the correspondents, who I will point out are mostly on usage fees only – no salary. Instead, those editors pocket the third-party payment themselves.

I promise I was pretty disgusted at the breach of trust that amounted to when I found that one – but despite me showing it to the management and seeking a new system to end it, those two picture editors survived, and I suppose are still stealing from nearly starving correspondent photographers to this day.

For whistle blowing or no whistle blowing, the management has to care. Which makes whistle blowing a strategic matter. Will the board act? Would the CEO act? Will regulators act? If there is no one willing to close down the illegality, where then is the point shouting about it?

Thus, in fact, our corruption ending sum is two heroes for every one plugged leak: the whistle blower and the manager who acts. No action from management – be sure, they are corrupt too. They don’t see nothing, get told nothing. They are only doing nothing about it.