Laws in place to protect whistle blowers

Friday, November 10, 2017

The most common dilemma facing whistle blowers and members of the community who want to report corruption, is fear for their safety and victimisation.

Some people turn a blind eye to corruption for fear that acting on it will jeopardise their careers, or even their lives. But there are laws that protect whistle blowers or people who report corruption in South Africa. Government acknowledged the need to offer legal protection to whistle blowers with the introduction of The Protected Disclosures Act.

“There is legislation in place to protect whistle blowers. Whistle blowing is something that is protected and it forms an integral part of the fright against corruption,” said Advocate Malini Govender of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit.

Advocate Govender was speaking at a media roundtable discussion on anti-corruption in Tshwane on Friday. The event was organised by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and was aimed at providing in-depth information on the work done by various institutions of state in the fight against corruption, using examples of actual cases from both the public and private sectors.

Although those who report corruption in South Africa are protected by law, very few people were aware of this. In the case of the public service, the Protected Disclosures Act makes provision for employees to report unlawful or irregular conduct by employers and fellow employees, while providing for the protection of employees who blow the whistle.

Journalists who attended Friday’s discussion raised concerns over public perceptions that there was selective prosecution when it comes to certain high profile cases of corruption. Journalists also raised concerns about claims of political meddling in the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as well as the Special Investigations Unit.

But Advocate Gerhard Visagie of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) outlined the unit’s approach to investigations and said investigators always worked within the law.

“We can only investigate cases once they are mandated through a proclamation signed by the President. In practice, what happens is that we receive cases of corruption and malpractice and we prepare a motivation that goes to the Department of Justice and then the Presidency before we investigate,” said Visagie. He dismissed any notion that the unit could be used to fight political battles.

Giving opening remarks at the start of the discussions earlier in the day, GCIS Acting Director General Phumla Williams said the fight against corruption is one of the foremost priorities of government. Government had adopted a zero tolerance approach to corrupt activities in the public and private sectors.

An Anti-Corruption Inter-Ministerial Committee was established in 2014 and is mandated to coordinate and oversee the work of state organs aimed at combating corruption in the public and private sectors.

Despite this, there is a perception from the public that corruption is out of control. A survey conducted in March this year showed that 78% of households had said they believed that corruption in South Africa is on the rise while it has also been identified as one of the eight top challenges facing the country.

For its part, the NPA said it is doing all it can to prosecute those who are found with their hands in the till, both in the public and private sector.

Figures provided by the NPA show that convictions were obtained against 311 government officials from April 2016 to date. Some of the cases involve three police officers who were convicted of fraud and corruption and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from seven to 10 years. A Home Affairs official was sentenced to eight years after she was convicted of fraud and corruption while a municipal employee is serving nine years in prison for fraud and corruption.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) has also recovered millions of rands from individuals charged with corruption. The unit obtained a preservation order to the value of R144 million related to municipal land corruptly sold to private individuals. In the Northern Cape, the AFU obtained a confiscation order to the amount of R59.8 million that had been fraudulently claimed and charged by a company in respect of a lease agreement with the provincial government.

Government said corruption has the potential to slow investment in the country and can disrupt economic growth. Corruption cannot flourish if members of society take personal responsibility to stopping it. Any suspicion of corruption can be reported to 0800 701 701. The Protected Disclosures Act is one of the interventions to protect those who report corruption. –

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