Why didn't anyone listen to the whistle-blowers?

Despite a promising whistle-blower function, it does not make any difference if nobody listens to those who whistles, as in the case of the Swedish Transport Agency's IT debacle.

The whole story of the Transport Agency's IT debacle could have been avoided, or at least damaged controlled, if someone would have listened to the warnings voiced at an early stage. As stated in the preliminary police investigation, both IT security officers and internal auditors tried to raise the issue of the ongoing and serious maladministration.

Since 2016 there is a special law that protects those who are alarmed from suffering from reprisals, so-called whistle-blower protection. The Act contains provisions that provide special protection against reprisals for workers who are alerted to serious misconduct in the employer's business. In the case of the Transport Agency, the law did not have to be applied, the problem here was that no matter how hard the whistle-blowers blew their whistles, no one listened.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven says that there should be a system where employee claims about irregularities should be taken seriously and when they are noted they will be investigated and, if necessary, remedied. However, it is extremely unclear how this will work in practice. The debacle is a clear indication that the system is not working. The truth is that there is currently no overall system for handling whistle blowers. That there is a law that protects whistle blowers is honorable, but if no one listens to those who blow the whistle, it will be nothing but a smoke screen. The law may, however, get Sweden to appear prominent in international comparisons of, for example, the OECD in terms of anti-corruption legislation, but it has little effect in reality.

Jonas Bjelvfenstam, Director General of the Transport Agency, is right when he states that transparency, rule of law and transparency are key concepts, which should also apply to their own employees. And when employees suspect or encounter to irregularities, this must be taken seriously, whistle-blower systems can and should be used to improve business. Equally correct is the head of the Swedish Seurity Service Anders Thornberg who says that the root cause of the problems lies in a lack of security culture, where there is a lack of knowledge about irregularities and that these issues are not prioritised.

The cause, however, is not completely lost and if the government want to deal with it successfully, if Lövfen really wants to create the order he proclaims, then at least two things must happen; first, a functional whistle-blower system must be developed and implemented, and secondly all government employees must have a crystal-clear understanding of what type of irregularities that constitutes malpractice.


This is a translation of the article "Varför lyssnade ingen på visselblåsarna?" originally published in Göteborgs Posten Debatt.