HRA welcomes the decision of Director of the Anti-Corruption Agency to provide whistleblower status to Mr. Milisav Dragojević. At the same time, we are disappointed by the decision not to provide the same status to Ms. Patricia Pobrić, who is also a textbook example of a whistleblower according to international standards.
In the former case it was found that Mr. Dragojević had had reasonable doubt about a threat to public interest indicating the existence of corruption in the Railway Transport of Montenegro JSC Podgorica, that he had reported his doubts in good faith, suffered damage as a result of his activities in the public interest, and that “more serious problems might arise as a result of endangering his health.” It has been recommended to the Railway Transport, inter alia, to firstly “suspend without delay and to refrain from any future active or passive behavior towards the whistleblower that is repeated and aimed at or constitutes violation of dignity, reputation, personal and professional integrity, health, employee status, causes fear or creates a hostile, humiliating or offensive environment, deteriorates working conditions or results in isolation of the whistleblower”. HRA provided legal assistance to Dragojević in the lawsuit that the Railway Transport had launched and lost against him.
The court dismissed allegations made by the Railway Transport that Dragojević had unjustifiably distressed the public when he spoke of improper maintenance of trains, illegal tenders for the procurement, repairs and modernization of trains, lack of qualified personnel, violations of regulations on the safety of railway transport, and so on. At this moment we expect the competent investigative authorities to thoroughly examine the legality of operations of this company, whose majority shares are owned by the state.
Second decision of the Anti-Corruption Agency Director denied protection to Ms. Patricia Pobrić, on the grounds that she had not previously formally reported the alleged corruption herself, but MP Mladen Bojanić, to whom she had submitted the evidence. Based on the information that Pobrić learned in connection with her work and published through MP, criminal proceeding was initiated in the meantime against a civil servant for abuse of office. On the other hand, her employer, Ramada Hotel, did not extend her employment contract.
HRA wishes to call attention to the 2014 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member states on the protection of whistleblowers, which expressly stipulates in paragraph 14 that a whistleblower may disclose information, inter alia, through a member of parliament, as Ms. Pobrić did. Denying her a whistleblower status because the abuse was reported to MP rather than some other authority, is contrary to the essence of the protection of whistleblowers who must be able to report abuse to MP or a journalist, directly to the public or competent investigative state bodies.
Formalistic approach to the interpretation of legal protection of whistle-blowers that the Agency Director has applied in his decision points to the need to define legal protection of whistleblowers in Montenegro in more detail. Otherwise, similar decisions can be expected in future, which are contrary to internationally recognized objective and purpose of the protection of whistle-blowers, and which, unfortunately, may only discourage citizens from taking action in the public interest.