Something unusual and long-expected happened to Serbia in 2015; the well-known world practice of reporting a crime, misuse of authority, discrimination was enshrined by law. Currently, whistleblowers are considered protected by the government (with certain limitations).
Serbia's level of corruption and freedom of speech didn't improve significantly in 4 years, but changes are visible. The Law on Protection of Whistleblowers Act is still among the best European-specific law for whistleblowers mostly for its comprehensiveness, even though the implementation is questionable.
What was the law
Serbia was fighting corruption for many years; consequently, the law aimed to deal only with witnesses of corruption. The act of 2014 became valid in 2015 and changed the agenda. Protection of whistleblowers usually brings up many questions, both from lawyers (who need to deal with emerging cases) and employers (who should implement the system of compliance).
The Serbian Act is very unambiguous about the most frequent concerns. Does the law cover both the public and private sectors? Yes. Does it include not only corruption cases but harassment, discrimination, and retaliation? Again yes. In a standard way, the whistleblower should report in good faith while the employer should create all the conditions for it. Serbia defined the procedure of internal, external, and public whistleblowing, which is often not included or absent in corresponding legislation of other countries.
New perspectives mean new responsibilities; employers with more than ten people in a team should organize a compliance system, following the recommendation of the 2014 Act. The main ideas are:
- employees should be aware of their rights to blow the whistle
- a specific authority should be assigned to process the requests from whistleblowers
- the anonymity of the whistleblower should be respected
- all personal data should be strictly protected
- the safe work environment should be created; the employer should react to complaints and eliminate damaging factors
- the issue of whistleblower should be resolved in 15 days with obligatory feedback
Who protects the whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are always facing the same problem: they have the information, but don't know where to address it. In Serbia, not so many cases were made public; therefore, many citizens are still unaware of their rights in this field. A whistleblower can rely on the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers (Marija Beretka won the first case in 2016) but should take a significant initiative to escape retaliation and finish the proceeding.
In Serbia, there are a few organizations that can help to blow the whistle externally: Eutopia, Transparency Serbia, and The Whistle.
Why it doesn't work
Serbian law is among the best European laws, it is in use for a few years, and it doesn't have an effect. It has, but the result of the Act was quite far from expectations. There are no clear instructions about sanctions for employers, no reward for whistleblowers, and no procedure for judges who work on whistleblowers' cases. Without thorough governmental support, the project didn't gain a positive image in society.
Currently, there is a gap in the idea and its realization; until whistleblowers get a clear procedure of report, reaction to report, and standard proceeding in court the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers Act can be considered new for Serbia.