The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Whistleblowing functions in central government (2016:30)

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has been commissioned by the Swedish Government to  survey how public authorities subordinate to the Government use whistleblowing functions in order to detect suspected cases of corruption and what experience they have gained from this. This commission also involved investigating whether a common whistleblowing function for multiple authorities may be an appropriate tool for the central government administration’s efforts to tackle corruption.

Authorities’ current efforts

Using a wide-ranging survey and interviews with various public authorities, Statskontoret has done a survey on how the authorities have been using whistleblowing functions thus far.

Around 15 per cent of the authorities that responded to the survey have introduced some form of whistleblowing function and about the same number have considered doing so. The number of authorities with a whistleblowing function has increased at a steady rate over the past five years.

Whistleblowing functions are most common among the larger authorities. Almost none of the very smallest authorities have introduced such a function.

The higher education institutions are one group of authorities among which whistleblowing functions are relatively common. The opposite applies to the large group of courts.

The authorities have had different aims when introducing their whistleblowing functions. In almost all cases, one aim has been to detect and counter irregularities that concern the authority’s interests. Detecting and countering corruption within the authority is somewhat less commonly cited.  All authorities have stated that their whistleblowing functions have more than one aim.

The whistleblowing function are intended primarily for the authorities’ staff, but there are also other target groups.

One common experience among the authorities is that it is unusual for serious irregularities to be reported via the whistleblowing functions. The cases reported this way most frequently pertain to a variety of issues concerning human resources, organisational or working environment.

Joint whistleblowing function

Statskontoret has analysed various possible forms and remits for a joint whistleblowing function. The most limited function is a common online reporting channel through which whistleblowers can report suspected cases of corruption or other serious irregularities. A function of this type can facilitate whistleblowing and reduce the cost to authorities in comparison to each of them having their own function. It may also be used to distribute clear and accurate information about the function’s purpose and prerequisites. No specific organisation is required for such a function, instead it can be set up through voluntary collaboration among the authorities.

The most developed form of a common function is a separate authority that is responsible for all stages of the process, from the channel used to report irregularities to the investigation of the reports submitted. A function of this type is relatively demanding in terms of resources and expertise about different authorities and activities.

Establishing a common whistleblowing function will have a range of consequences. How extensive these are is dependent on how the function is organised and what remit it is given. Statskontoret’s assessment is that there are no clear economic reasons for establishing a common whistleblowing function, as opposed to each authority having its own. If a common function is established, membership of this by authorities should be voluntary or it should principally encompass authorities where the risk of corruption is deemed to be high and where whistleblowers can play an important role.

Statskontoret’s assessment is that from a data-protection perspective, the legislative preconditions for establishing a common whistleblowing function are not in place. In addition, more of the other legislative preconditions for a common whistleblowing function need to be investigated further before such a function can be introduced. Legislation may need to be amended in several areas. The same thing applies to the authorities’ own whistleblowing functions.

When Statskontoret weighs up the various prerequisites for and consequences of introducing a common whistleblowing function as a tool for countering corruption, the conclusion is that there is no good reason to do so. Nevertheless, Statskontoret is of the opinion that it would be valuable to have a guide containing common guidelines for how whistleblowing functions should be designed and used in central government.