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Capital Mafia: the whistle-blower and the bus driver suspended

Some Italian municipalities encourage civil servants to report wastes and lawlessness, creating special reserved channels.

In other cities, public authorities encourage whistle-blowers, i.e. employees and other infomers who report misconduct, waste and lawlessness. Instead in Rome, the Capitoline administrators invoke the spirit of discipline and company silence. This is demonstrated by the story of a bus driver of the local transport service which was punished for having indicated on social networks the cause of some serious disruptions. The story of Christian Rosso says that even the City Council of Rome and its companies would do well to open the doors to whistle-blowers. With their help, we might have found out long ago of the scandals tied to the inquiry known as “Capital Mafia”.

In Rome, the ATAC, the municipal company for urban transport, has suspended the salary for a week to Christian Rosso, 31 years old, a driver who had refuted on social networks the company’s explanations for the serious disruptions of recent months. According to ATAC, the passengers would have suffered from hours-long delays because of improvised strikes. The truth, Rossi said, is another one, and declared it with a video-complaint published on social networks. The delays depend on the fact that fewer buses are circulating, because many are still in the workshop for failures. Executives of ATAC have not digested this refutation of their position and suspended him from work indefinitely. Then the new city councilor for Transport spoke with the driver, convinced him to justify himself and explain that he did not intend to damage ATAC, and finally convinced the company executives to reduce the punishment to one week. In short, the case has been resized, but has revived an issue that is not clear to many.

To what extent is an employee entitled to express opinions dissenting from the company that pays his salary? Those who disagree by denouncing a corporate conduct that is improper, illegal or harmful to the public, may be punished by the employer? The question is an old one. Once, these matters were resolved according to the principle of authority: the company is always right, woe betide those who go against the master or against the chief!

Since then, fortunately, times have changed. Endless labor and court disputes have canceled penalties and gagging. But in the times of social networks the issue is back because the network has increased the opportunity to make personal opinions known and the old rules can not prevent it. The issue is being raised in these new terms in all countries and many countries have decided to exploit these new possibilities for transparency and strengthen controls on public administration. As such they created tools to gather confidential information from whistle-blowers, i.e. by anyone who is willing to “whistle them” to the ear of the controllers.

Despite all the technological changes, an employee retains the civil rights and therefore can exercise the right of expression. Who pays a salary can not expect that the employee keeps quiet if he sees misconduct, abuse, or waste that harm the public interest, let alone if he sees offenses being committed and if he works in a public company. Who receives a wage should not close their eyes and obey orders like a soldier in a war. Certainly, they must be prudent, and must be able to use communication channels that are reserved and internal, if any. But if these channels do not exist, they would do well to turn to the public opinion.

How could we know the scandals if who witnesses them can not tell citizens, journalists, or the authorities control what he knows? In the public interest, it is necessary to encourage and protect those who provide these information. For this purpose in Italy, following the example of other countries, a number of municipalities, including Milan and Modena, have opened protected channels for whistle-blowers. Through them a municipal employee can report with a guarantee of anonymity, an illegality or impropriety or irregularity affecting the public interest. To collect the reports of these informants, municipalities are creating platforms in which individuals can connect via the internet to make reports in the interests of citizens or to denounce abuses and corruption, and to defend ethics and legality.

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