The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR) Executive Director, Graham Hopwood said that whistleblower protection laws require a government that is committed to accountability and a society that is open and democratic, to be operationally effective, while speaking at a breakfast meeting at Nice Restaurant last week.
The whistleblowers’ law will protect individuals who come forward with relevant information regarding irregularities by state public and private entities. At the meeting which was themed, ‘doing the right thing’, Hopwood said “Much will depend then on the way the Whistleblower protection Bill is implemented once it becomes law and the effectiveness of public awareness campaigns focusing on the importance of whistleblowing and the definition of improper conduct is wide-ranging. Disclosures of improper conduct can be made when a person believes a crime has been committed or is likely to be committed”.
He further added that factors that are relevant for the bill to be implemented are the level of democratisation; entrenchment of the rule of law; high public confidence in watchdog institutions; the scope of civic education; and strong access to information provisions.
The bill includes a comprehensive list of detrimental actions that a whistleblower should be protected from dismissal, redundancy, demotion, transfer or refusal to transfer disciplinary action, discriminatory treatment and change in work condition.
If any of the agencies set up by the Whistleblower Protection law are perceived primarily as arms of government lacking inbuilt guarantees of independence they will not gain credibility with the public and the office will be chaired by a commissioner.
“The Office is supposed to be independent and impartial yet functions as part of the public service and in terms of its administration, it falls under the Ministry of Justice with the Justice Permanent Secretary acting as its accounting officer. This Office investigates disclosures by whistleblowers, investigates reports of detrimental action against whistleblowers, decides on appropriate action to be taken, initiates criminal charges, and gives policy directions on best practice,” he said.
He further added that the process by which the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners are appointed by the President with the approval of National Assembly does not adequately ensure the independence of the Office and this mandate will in all likelihood mean that it has to investigate a take action.
According to Sections 7 (1g) and 79, the Whistleblower Protection Office has the responsibility to educate the public about the provisions of the law and necessity for disclosures of improper conduct. The Office can also issue practical guidelines to help the public understand the processes involved in making a protected disclosure and as the various options and procedures outlined in the Bill are quite complex, it is vital that the Office is resourced and capacitated to do this public education work effectively.