BUSISIWE MAVUSO: Whistle-blowers need rewards, not persecution

POSTED ON: February 7, 2023 IN by Admin
whistle-blowers whistle-blowers

By Busisiwe Mavuso

Business is heavily invested in the fight against corruption because the application of the rule of law is essential to the business environment.

In looking into areas where BLSA can improve conditions for whistle-blowers, we’ve heard some truly heartbreaking accounts of how the lives of these brave people are destroyed.

Once they have exposed wrongdoings in their organisations they are fired and find they are suddenly unemployable throughout the public service as well as in the private sector – which I find deeply troubling.

The loss of income has devastating effects not only on them but on their families. Suddenly they cannot pay for their children’s school fees and have to cancel their medical insurance, among other costs. Often their very act of exposing corruption opens them to legal threats, yet they cannot afford a lawyer.

Death threats are also common and need to be taken seriously, as the killing of Gauteng health department whistle-blower Babita Deokaran chillingly shows.

One whistle-blower told me she had lost her house, her car and had to pull her children from their school. Depression is a common consequence, but therapy is unaffordable. Another said that four years after losing her job for exposing corruption, she was still on medication and being supported by her parents.

It’s impossible to convey the anguish in their voices when they describe how their lives have fallen apart and the response from society is shameful. These are people of integrity who refused to look away. They have been instrumental in fighting corruption yet there are no official support structures and very little in the way of support from wider society apart from a few non-government organisations that are doing excellent work but need more support.

Deeply entrenched

Business Day columnist Anton Harber wrote in these pages in September last year that whistle-blowers and investigative reporters should not only be afforded protection but also be rewarded for uncovering corruption. The US has a variety of powerful laws that provide financial incentives for whistle-blowers to report evidence of wrongdoing, with the amount of rewards tied to how much the whistle-blower contributed to the success of prosecutions.

There’s a strong argument for that in SA when you consider the billions that were syphoned out of Eskom and Transnet, among other state entities, during the state capture era. Every other day there seemed to be another exposé by investigative journalists and their services to the country are needed now more than ever with corruption still deeply entrenched throughout many state structures as well as being far too prevalent in the private sector.

It’s important that as a country we use every weapon we have to eradicate corruption from our society as much as is possible and implement recommendations of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture for structures and processes to be established to combat corruption, including a powerful anti-corruption unit.

Whistle-blowers are often at the mercy of those they’re accusing and included in Judge Raymond Zondo’s recommendations were measures to protect them from retaliation. He advocated for an agency to handle legal issues for whistle-blowers, particularly to ensure they gain criminal and civil immunity. The Protected Disclosures Act also needs to be strengthened.

Toxic combination

Just last week Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela told the Allan Gray Fund Provider seminar that corruption was still prevalent in the public service, pinpointing continued cadre deployment as a fundamental cause of that. “There are still too many employed in the public sector not based on their competence but rather their loyalty,” she said. “And in cases where those in power have placed personnel with the wrong principles and improper skills, a toxic combination frustrates the system.” She said this toxicity continues to expand the breeding ground of corruption in the country, no matter how much the dedicated public servants’ corner fights for redemption.

Business is heavily invested in the fight against corruption because the application of the rule of law is essential to the business environment. Government has gone rather quiet since President Cyril Ramaphosha in October last year announced the formation of a permanent, independent Public Procurement Anti-Corruption Agency to combat corruption, fraud and maladministration, as recommended by Judge Zondo. It will have oversight over parliament and the executive.

Organised business is disappointed that there has been no consultation on this issue – it seems government is going it alone. But the importance of getting such an agency established and operating is even more urgent given that government might institute a state of disaster to deal with the energy crisis. As massive corruption in the state tenders issued to deal with the Covid pandemic showed, corrupt elements within government and the private sector have no compunction about trying to steal money that’s intended to improve the lives of distressed citizens. We cannot afford another chapter of this shameful chronicle.

• Mavuso is BLSA CEO. This article first appeared in Business Day.

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