It is often difficult to expose and unravel corruption schemes without the cooperation of insiders. Yet would-be whistleblowers are frequently deterred from making disclosures due to the personal and professional risks of doing so. One increasingly popular way that countries are addressing this problem is through whistleblower reward programs. While such programs vary widely in their specifics, most operate under the same basic framework, offering a whistleblower who discloses material nonpublic information that leads to an enforcement action a monetary reward—typically, a percentage of the fines imposed on the liable parties—as an inducement to come forward.
In the United States, which pioneered this mechanism, whistleblower reward programs have seen broad success. Between 1986 and 2020, whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act (FCA) brought in $46.5 billion in penalties, with whistleblowers receiving $7.8 billion in rewards. And this is only under the FCA—other U.S. whistleblower reward programs have also led to the recovery of significant additional sums. For example, under the whistleblower program created by the Dodd-Frank Act, which was created in 2011, whistleblower tips have contributed to at least $2 billion in financial remedies for violations of the securities laws, with over $720 million awarded to whistleblowers. The success of whistleblower reward programs in the United States has inspired similar programs in several other countries, including South Korea, Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, Hungary, and Kenya. But not all of these programs have been similarly successful. For example, in Ghana, the first country in Africa to introduce a whistleblower reward program, no rewards are known to have been issued—in fact, few have made use of the Ghanaian Whistleblower Act’s provisions at all.
What factors help explain when a whistleblower reward program will work as intended? There is no easy or simple answer—the issue is complex, and the effect of any given program depends in part on details of the program’s design, including the prerequisites for receiving a reward and the scope of the program, as well as the country’s culture around whistleblowing. That said, two factors stand out as key indicators of whether a whistleblower reward program will succeed in encouraging substantial numbers of whistleblowers to come forward: