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Whistleblowers need more support in fight against corruption

BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso

BLSA CEO Busi Mavuso

19th September 2022

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso believes more support for whistleblowers is needed if South Africa is going to make any meaningful headway in the fight against corruption. 

This comes as the BLSA has been working on the Zondo Commission’s recommendations, identifying mechanisms and structures to help combat future corruption and to support other role-players in carrying out their responsibilities. 

“Whistleblowers were key in exposing corruption and some paid the ultimate price,” Mavuso said in her weekly newsletter on September 19. 

She noted that the assassination of Gauteng Department of Health acting CFO Babita Deokaran, who exposed corruption related to Covid-19 tenders, was the ultimate failure in the State’s responsibility to protect those who come forward with information that puts them at serious risk.  

“It was a damning verdict on existing whistleblower protections. Whistleblowers face both physical and financial risks from their actions. Even when their actions successfully lead to prosecutions, convictions and the recovery of stolen assets, whistleblowers can struggle to find work and rebuild their lives. They will often have faced legal action and huge expenses,” Mavuso said. 

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has recommended that whistleblowers should be properly remunerated. There are other jurisdictions, notably the US, where whistleblowers can benefit from any funds recovered, which is an option that South Africa may want to consider, Mavuso said. 

Another idea she put forward was for an independent fund to be established to support whistleblowers. This could be more narrowly focused on the costs that whistleblowers face, such as loss of income and legal expenses, or it could include elements of reward in proportion to money recovered. However, this would necessitate careful consideration of perverse incentives.  

“It should only be genuine whistleblowers acting in good faith who are compensated when they bring to light information that leads to successful prosecutions and the recovery of money,” Mavuso said. 

However, determining good faith is a fraught problem. 

A recent, ill-founded alleged whistleblowing against auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke – who represents one of the key institutions in the fight against corruption – proved only that she had become a target for those who have something to lose. 

Her former human resources head Mlungisi Mabaso made several allegations against her after allegedly asking for a financial settlement. An independent investigation by a law firm found the allegations to be baseless and recommended instead that the accuser be charged with blackmail. 

“Given the context, we cannot simply give people the benefit of the doubt. We have had many ridiculous allegations flung at those who are trying to end the era of impunity.  

“We are lucky we have our courts to sort out truth from fiction, but whistleblowers need protection before the courts can eventually decide on the validity of their claims,” Mavuso said. 

She said another suggestion was for a whistleblowers’ organisation that can offer protection and support to genuine whistleblowers.  

Such an organisation would need to be equipped to be able to undertake some level of verification, but then have powers and funding to support whistleblowers where it finds grounds to do so.  

It should be able to offer legal expertise and fund litigation, as well as cover the opportunity costs that face whistleblowers in lost earnings and damage to their careers, Mavuso recommended. 

“We will continue to work with counterparts in the public sector and civil society on thinking through options to improve the treatment of whistleblowers.  

“They play a key role in the kind of society we want, where wrongdoing is exposed and dealt with swiftly. That is the kind of environment that is good for business and society and allows trust to be restored. It is in our common interest,” Mavuso said. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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