Call to protect whistle blowers

Lauding President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s zero tolerance policy on corruption, several participants at the first national conference on corporate Governance and anti-corruption also appealed on Namibia’s lawmakers, to legislate the protection of whistle-blowers with the similar commitment that the Head of State has demonstrated. Said prominent controversial whistleblower Sophia Tekkie whose expose prompted an investigation by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Roads Authority: “Witnesses were and some are still being victimized, harassed, sidelined, intimidated, some fired, some in the process of being fired, some forced to resign, some ended up to be alcoholic, some contracts were terminated without proper procedures, promotions denied, bad references given to other employers so that the victims will not be employed as they are looked at as threats.” She claimed that some of the witnesses’ phones were tapped, some were threatened even with death. She said the anti-corruption drive should not only be seen as President Pohamba’s project and politicians and lawmakers should join in his efforts by showing practical commitment by protecting whistleblowers. “How will future whistle blowers come forward if the present ones are suffering for telling the truth? Let it be remembered that Namibia is a small place almost everyone knows the other one way or the other. “Any person who tries to rock the boat or questions some inconsistent decisions his fate is to be fired. Names are given to these people, they are frustrated and are left alone to die a natural death. They do not know where to go, how to expose because they will know their lives will be miserable,” she added. “The question will remain, it is good to launch a new ACC if there is no protection to witnesses, and if witnesses are given names daily in the papers and in the corridors? This process to be effective and efficient the highest decision makers need without any further delay put a whistle blowing protection law,” Tekkie pointed out. Echoing the same concerns, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)’s Regional Director Kaitira Kandjii said Namibia just like many other Southern African countries does not protect whistleblowers. “On the whole the SADC region lacks legal instruments like legislation on the protection of whistleblowers and protection of disclosure of information. Notably there is also a lack of legislation that compels authorities to make information accessible to the public.” He said the Namibian Anti-corruption legislation does not provide for the role of media in fighting corruption. “Nowhere is the media mentioned as a key stakeholder in the fight against corruption especially in the aspect of public awareness/public campaigns and public education on corruption.” There is little protection for media when covering corruption and unearthing major incidences of corruption particularly government corruption. “As you all know, covering corruption is a high risk activity and media needs protection. We have witnessed within our region incidents of journalists being killed who have covered sensitive stories of corruption.” “There are no mechanisms in place that allow for the easy accessing of information hence it is difficult to access information pertaining to public accounts.” Kandjii said there is a lot of censorship of news by the state. “In some jurisdictions there is the use of security legislation to restrict information; the State conceals information that is deemed sensitive and not for the public and it is almost impossible to challenge this position. ” He said the issue of ineffective media councils is another problem because there is failure by the councils, to make governments accountable for their actions. He said coupled with financial constraints that hamper the media’s ability to gather information the existence of stringent defamation and libel laws hamper media ability to expose wrong doing. Though the media generally has a clear perception of what role they should be playing nationally and regionally in support of the fight against corruption the lack of an enabling environment militates against their effectiveness, he concluded.

April 2006
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