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Outrage as justice ministry throws Whistleblower Protection Act out of the dish

by Kelvin Chiringa

Finally, after fears that there may not be funds to implement the recently birthed Whistleblower Protection Act and Witness Protection Act, the justice ministry has come out to say they will not be implemented this year due to lack of funds.

The first premonition on the fate of these vital pieces of legislation was cast by the finance minister, Calle Schlettwein, in his budget speech in which he said implementation will only be done if funds allowed.

Speaking to parliamentarians this week, deputy justice minister Lidwina Shapwa said that the fact that there were no funds in the current financial year for these acts was regrettable.

The failure to budget for the Acts challenges president Hage Geingob’s criticism of the media which he fingered for propagating a “worrying and persisting perception” that government was doing little to fight corruption.

However, activists have been waiting patiently for the Acts after a long fight over clauses for effective promotion of good governance via waging war against corruption. 

“This is a clear indication that actually the government is not willing to tackle corruption. There is no political will in this country. Each and every day you hear of huge sums of money that disappear from our treasury and no one is being taken to account,” lamented land activist affiliated with the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) Paul Thomas. 

He said the excuse that there is no money shows that government does not direct funds to priority areas. 

Action Coalition chairperson and columnist, Frederico Links said, “It’s not good that money couldn’t be found to implement these very serious regulatory initiatives especially where there is this so called drive around corruption.”

“You see the president saying a lot about corruption in his state of the nation address, but if the elements that sort of make up the anti-corruption armament are not in place, how are we going to deal with corruption and mismanagement efficiently?” he said.

Geingob gave a pat on the back over the lack of operationalization of the Whistleblower Act saying, “This should not deter the public from submitting reports of corruption to relevant authorities.”

Asked if the president’s exhortation provides some sense of comfort for whistleblowers for now, Links said to the contrary.

“Whistleblower Protection and Witness protection are created specifically because there is a problem of victimisation and stigmatisation of whistleblowers and people do not want to come forth.”

“For people to know that they have legal protection, I think that could make them more comfortable coming forward. But to know that these protections do not exist or aren’t being implemented, I don’t think this creates an effective anti-corruption environment,” said the civic society activist. 

Another blow to whistleblowers is that government has not provided a time line when the Acts could be implemented, thus throwing a veil of uncertainty.

“It could be the next year; it could be the year after. It could just be shifted to whenever. It does beg the question of how serious we are about fighting corruption,” said Links.

However, for Geingob, contrary to the widespread perception of corrupt officials, substantiated reports have not been forthcoming.