Johannesburg – Corruption Watch says whistle-blowers in South Africa have increasingly come under the spotlight and often face devastating consequences for exposing corruption.
The NGO, established to fight corruption, on Thursday released a report titled “Daring to Act”, which unveils the findings of an online perceptions survey towards whistle-blowing in South Africa.
The study explored the public’s trust in institutions, awareness around existing whistle-blowing, reporting channels and views on suggested improvements to systems that would promote a safe environment for whistle-blowers.
Head of stakeholder relations and campaigns at Corruption Watch Kavisha Pillay said this perceptions survey, while not a representative sample, provides vital insights into the attitudes, behaviours and perceptions of whistle-blowing in South Africa.
Three months ago, whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, the Gauteng department of health’s chief director of financial accounting, was gunned down outside her Winchester Hills home, south of Joburg.
The motive for her killing was allegedly linked to her role in investigating dodgy personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts in Gauteng.
She was reportedly a key witness in the investigations.
Her assassination left the public questioning the safety of whistle-blowers.
According to Corruption Watch’s survey, most respondents understand the nature and purpose of whistle-blowing.
Pillay said participants believe that whistle-blowing is important in addressing wrongdoing, and curbing corruption and crime in the country.
Asked if they knew where to report their experiences of corruption, crime or misconduct, the majority of respondents (58%) said they did, and they knew which channels to use to report information.
Up to 71% of the participants said they were aware that they can report corruption to the SAPS; 63% said they knew of Corruption Watch; 48% of Chapter 9 institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission; while 48% knew of the Public Protector.
“While participants are aware of the various channels to report wrongdoing, corruption, crime or misconduct, most are only partially aware or not at all aware of the laws that protect whistle-blowers in South Africa,” said Pillay.
Regarding the institutions dealing with their corruption reports, the majority expressed greater trust in civil society organisations, followed by Chapter 9 institutions, and the media.
Pillay said participants noted that to improve whistle-blowing in South Africa, additional resources should be provided to law- enforcement agencies to ensure whistle-blower complaints are investigated, there should be legislative reform, and an agency dedicated to supporting whistle-blowers should be established.
Corruption Watch said it believes that the findings of this study could greatly improve the existing systems, policies and programmes to reduce corruption in society.
“The data emanating from this survey, along with the whistle-blower complaints received by Corruption Watch and other organisations, as well as the experiences that have been reported on in the public domain, clearly indicate that more needs to be done to improve the environment. Only then will it be safe and conducive for whistle-blowing, if we hope to build a corruption-free society,” said Pillay.
She said some of the organisation’s recommendations include a review and amendment of the Protected Disclosures Act, with the expansion of the definition of a whistle-blower to include anyone who has information about wrongdoing or misconduct.
Corruption Watch also said it supports the proposed establishment of an agency to provide whistle-blowers with legal, financial and mental health support in alignment with the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
According to Pillay, the organisation believes that criminal sanctions should be brought against those found guilty of intimidation and harassment of whistle-blowers, including penalties against law-enforcement agencies found derelict in their duties to protect whistle-blowers.
“It is heartening that, despite the difficulties in exposing corruption and the personal dangers experienced by whistle-blowers, most participants in this study were positively disposed towards whistle-blowing as a means of securing justice and righting the wrongs…,” Pillay said.