GOVERNMENT 5% REWARD POLICY ON WHISTLEBLOWERS: NEED FOR STATUTORY FRAMEWORK FOR PROTECTION (2)
“When faced with corruption, only few people have the courage to speak up. Reporting questionable practices or abuse of power without protection is simply too risky for many.”
Last week I examined the ‘Whistle Blowing Programme,’ introduced by the Federal Government of Nigeria by which persons who provide information leading to the recovery of looted funds are to be rewarded with a certain percentage of the recovered funds. I however highlighted the need for the provision of a statutory framework to guide its implementation and particularly to provide protection for whistleblowers. As stated last week, whistleblowers face certain risks including loss of employment, threats of violence, physical harm and even death. Indeed it must be noted that the program of reward recently introduced by the Federal Government is similar to legislation adopted in the USA way back in 1863. This legislation was theFalse Claims Act, subsequently revised in 1986, which tried to combat fraud by suppliers of the United States government during the American Civil War.The Act encourages whistleblowers by promising them a percentage of the money recovered by the government and by protecting them from employment retaliation. However, as will be discussed shortly even the US has improved its statutory framework on whistleblowers to include protection.
STATUTORY PROTECTION IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Wikipedia estimates that several countries have taken action in the form of legislation to offer protection to whistleblowers. According to it:
“Legal protection for whistleblowing varies from country to country and may depend on the country of the original activity, where and how secrets were revealed, and how they eventually became published or publicized. Over a dozen countries have now adopted comprehensive whistleblower protection laws that create mechanisms for reporting wrongdoing and provide legal protections to whistleblowers. Over 50 countries have adopted more limited protections as part of their anti-corruption, freedom of information, or employment laws.”
Some of the Countries referred to above are Australia, Canada, Jamaica, India, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Ghana, South Korea and Uganda. Similar legislation is reportedly being considered in Kenya and Rwanda. The factor common to the legislation in these countries is that premium is placed on protection and not just reward. In Canada for example, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC) provides a safe and confidential mechanism enabling public servants and the general public to disclose wrongdoings committed in the public sector. It also protects from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations. The Office’s goal is to enhance public confidence in Canada’s federal public institutions and in the integrity of public servants. In the Netherlands the whistleblower advice centre (Adviespunt Klokkenluiders) offers advice to whistleblowers. The Parliament also passed a proposal to establish a so-called house for whistleblowers, to protect them from the severe negative consequences which their conduct might attract. In addition the country’s media also support whistleblowers support by providing a secure website where citizens can provide information to the media.
In the United States, protection for whistleblowers is not limited to a single Act and as a matter of fact varies according to the subject matter of the whistleblowing, and also the state jurisdiction where the act which is the subject of the whistleblowing occurs. Some of these are the Lloyd–La Follette Act of 1912 which guaranteed the right of federal employees to furnish information to the United States Congress, the Clean Water Act of 1972 which deals with issues relating to the enviroment, the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or the Superfund Law) (1980), and the Clean Air Act (1990). Investigation of retaliation against whistleblowers under 20 federal statutes falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Whistleblower Protection Program of the United States Department of Labor’sOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
ATTEMPTS AT STATUTORY PROTECTION IN NIGERIA
In 2015 ‘The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill 2015’sponsored by former Senator Ganiyu Solomon was passed by the outgoing National Assembly and was one of the Bills sent to President Muhammad Buhari for his assent. According to reports, the bill sought “to provide for the manner in which individuals may, in the public interest, disclose information that relates to unlawful or other illegal conduct or corrupt practices of others; to provide for the protection against victimisation of persons who make these disclosures.” The bill defined the nature of an impropriety that qualifies for disclosure, the procedure for disclosure and the protection that would be given a whistleblower by government agencies. It aims to give some measure of protection to individuals who give out information on alleged malfeasances in government to security agencies. This bill is yet to receive Presidential assent.
In 2016 a similar bill seeking to protect persons with useful information on corrupt practices and other high profile crimes from undue harassment and persecution scaled second reading in the Senate. The bill has as its objectives the necessity to protect individuals who make disclosures in public interest from reprisal attacks and ensure that information provided by such whistleblowers are thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies.The sponsor of the bill, Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South), is reported to have described it as imperative in view of Nigeria’s consistent rating as one of the most corrupt countries of the world. According to her:
“The inability of the country’s legal framework to effectively reduce corruption may be associated with the low number of corruption/fraud cases successfully prosecuted which significantly depends on whistleblowers. When faced with corruption, only few people have the courage to speak up. Reporting questionable practices or abuse of power without protection is simply too risky for many.”
Without a doubt, these are commendable efforts. It demonstrates that those in power recognise the need to protect those who for fear of retribution to reprisal may be unwilling to reveal information which may aide the government in the fight against corruption. It is in the light of this that I urge the National to ensure that the bill of 2016 is speedily passed so as to complement the efforts of the Executive that has rolled out the reward initiative.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, SAN, CON, LL.D