FILE - Protestors calling for the protection of Whistle-blowers outside the State capture Commission where President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to appear. 11.08.21. File photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
FILE - Protestors calling for the protection of Whistle-blowers outside the State capture Commission where President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to appear. 11.08.21. File photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Rogue elements should not deter South Africans from taking a stand against corruption

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 4, 2021

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OPINION: The SIU has put measures in place to ensure the safety of witnesses and whistle-blowers. The SIU has pulled all stops to protect the identity of witnesses, writes Kaizer Kganyago.

When the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) introduced its 24-hour whistle-blower hotline in 2018, the purpose was to ensure the anonymity of whistle-blowers, integrity in the whistle-blowing process, and independent audit of allegations received.

The hotline, which is managed by an independent organisation, handles all allegations of corruption, malpractice, malfeasance and maladministration in the affairs of government departments, municipalities and State-Owned Entities. It also handles allegations of corruption against SIU members and investigators.

Whistle-blowers have an option of blowing the whistle anonymously. Within the SIU, there is a case assessment committee which deals with the allegations of corruption received from whistle-blowers. The committee evaluates whether allegations received falls within the scope of SIU mandate as enshrined in the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act 74 of 1996.

Allegations that falls within the SIU mandate are then processed for the purposes of drafting a motivation for proclamation, which authorises the SIU to use all its legislative powers to subpoena bank statements and cellphone records, search and seize evidence, and interrogate witnesses under oath in an effort to hold those responsible to account for their actions. Once the proclamation is signed by the president, the SIU can only begin with its investigations.

That being said, the murder of senior Gauteng Department of Health official Ms Babita Deokaran has raised concerns around witness protection. Like many South Africans, government and civil society, the SIU is concerned about the safety of whistle-blowers, witnesses and SIU investigators.

The South African government has put together legislation to ensure the protection of whistle-blowers. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, through the NPA, administers the Office of the Witness Protection to provide support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in any judicial proceedings.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa stated in his weekly column From The Desk of The President dated August 30, 2021, entering witness protection is voluntary, and neither the South African Police Services and the National Prosecuting Authority can compel a witness to do so. The Witness Protection Programme has played a key role in securing successful prosecution since its inception, particularly with regards to organised crime, he said.

The SIU has put measures in place to ensure the safety of witnesses and whistle-blowers. In the ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption and maladministration in the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by State institutions, the SIU witnesses were allowed to bring their legal representatives, and some were sent interview questions which they had to respond to and send it back to the investigating team.

The SIU has pulled all stops to protect the identity of witnesses, and witnesses were further requested to report matters to SIU investigators and SAPS if they feel unsafe.

Furthermore, the SIU encourage witnesses to come forward and inform SIU investigators should they feel unsafe or should there be any threat to them so that steps can be taken to protect them, including invoking the Witness Protection Program that Government has in place.

The SIU continues to have engagements with witnesses who have identified the need for protection and have been advised on their protection in terms of the Protected Disclosure Act, Labour Relations Act, Companies Act, Protection against Harassment Act, and the Constitution.

Internally, the SIU is assessing and considering further measures that will be put in place to secure the SIU investigators over and above the measures that are already in place with the SAPS.

As the SIU has already stated, Ms Deokaran was one of the more than 320 witnesses in the ongoing PPE tender corruption and procurement irregularities investigations in both the public and private sectors. The SIU cannot, at this stage, link or associate the murder of Ms Doekaran with the ongoing PPE investigations. SIU will allow the SAPS to get to the bottom of this.

The murder of Ms Deokaran will not affect or compromise the ongoing PPE investigation in the Gauteng Department of Health. The SIU is committed to finalising all PPE tender corruption investigations, hold those responsible for procurement irregularities and corruption to account, and recovering any financial losses suffered by the State.

The murder of Ms Deokaran should not deter South Africans and public servants from reporting allegations of corruption, malpractice, greed and maladministration in the affairs of government departments, municipalities and State-Owned Entities. It is through the reporting of procurement irregularities and corruption in the public sector that we can protect the public purse and ensure that the public purse serves the interest of the public.

* Kganyago is the SIU Head of Stakeholder Relations and Communication and spokesperson.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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