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Nigeria: Protecting the Whistle-Blowers
Experts and analysts believe that whistle blowing, the act of exposing fraud, waste, abuse or other misbehaviour in a company or organisation, is on the rise globally.
With one telephone call to the media, a letter to the right public official, a corrupt company can be brought to its knees by a whistleblower, Ms Lillian Ekeanyanwu, National Coordinator of the Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC) submitted.
In a statement sent by ZCC, it was revealed that Transparency International (TI), the global corruption monitoring group, has helped whistleblowers in many ways, including recognising and honouring their actions, and lobbying for stronger legislation to protect them against retaliation.
In addition, TI has set up whistleblower hotlines and encourages responsible organisations to promote whistle blowing as an integral part of risk management. But even with this work, much remains to be done to ensure whistleblowers do not become an endangered breed of corruption fighters.
ZCC, which seeks to re-establish the culture of transparency, accountability, integrity and respect for human dignity in order to achieve good governance and social justice, has for long been in the vanguard of the campaign for the enactment of the Whistle-blowers Bill which is currently pending before the National Assembly.
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (Cislac), under Alhaji Musa Rafsanjani, has strenuously campaigned for speedy passage of this Bill, which ranks alongside other reform Bills like the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (Neiti), and the Public Procurement Bill, which has since become law in the current dispensation.
The thinking among civil society groups and other watch-dogs is that enactment of the Whistle-blowers Bill into law, coupled with a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, would serve to protect those citizens who have vital information on corruption at all levels, and thus help improve prosecution and curb corruption in the country.
In the United States, for example, more than $8 billion has been recovered as a direct result of whistleblowers' actions, reports reveal. Whistle blowing can be an effective way to deter and detect corruption both in the private and public sectors and it provides better information flows, which increase the chances of successful prosecutions in corruption cases.
But in order for whistle blowing to be an effective tool to fight corruption, legislation and clear processes are essential.
It takes courage to stand up and challenge the corrupt. But courage isn't always enough. Powerful individuals and organisations can retaliate against whistleblowers, threatening their jobs, their families or even their lives.
Legal protection for whistle blowing is different in each country. In the United Kingdom, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects whistleblowers from victimisation and dismissal. In the United States, legal protections vary according to the subject matter of the whistle blowing, and sometimes the state in which the case arises.
Transparency International (TI) monitors how nations implement their legal obligations under the Unac, and will submit its findings to the 2nd Conference of States Parties in Bali, Indonesia, in January 2008.
The OECD Convention, according to reports, is the most focused of the major anti-corruption conventions; intended to address the supply side of bribery by covering a group of countries accounting for the majority of global exports and foreign investment.
It does so by providing a framework for developed countries to work together to criminalise the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. Thirty-seven nations have ratified it.
Whistleblower regulations are a core part of the Convention. It requires countries to establish complaint procedures, and to protect whistleblowers in the public and private sectors.
TI's national chapters produce an annual progress report on how well nations are enforcing the convention's provisions. This year's report has just been published. It concludes that the performance of almost half of countries surveyed is unsatisfactory in both the public and private sectors. Nonetheless, the trend is positive, with improvements reported in Italy, Japan, Norway and Switzerland.
Whistleblower protection varies from country to country. While calls have been made by the Committee of Experts of the OAS Convention Follow-Up Mechanism for countries like Argentina to strengthen its whistleblower protection programme, Canada enacted legislation three years ago to create a new employment-related intimidation offence, protecting employees who report unlawful conduct within their company. But there is no legislation to encourage private sector employees to speak out when their employer pays foreign bribes, the group said.
In a case study, CBC News reported that up to $100 million out of a $250 million fund was misused in a Canadian sponsorship scandal for a program promoting federalism in Quebec, through federal contracts that were paid for but for which little or no work was done.
The scandal, according to CBC News, was revealed by Allan Cutler, a federal employee responsible for negotiating federal ad contracts, and was responsible for bringing down the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2006 elections, after 13 years in power. Cutler was subsequently fired, although later reinstated.
Although members of the National Assembly in Nigeria are yet to pass the Whistle-blowers Bill into law, a quick passage and assent by President Umaru Yar'Adua would help to reduce corruption in the nation.
In a case where potential corrupt offenders know they are being watched and their deeds may be exposed, this would discourage sharp practices. Everyone, from the Presidency to the local council levels thus practices peer review on each other and this will eventually kill off corruption totally.
The time to pass such a vital Bill in Nigeria is now. Then will the nation witness an era of disclosures which would serve to bring erring public officials to book and act as deterrent to potential treasury looters. Nigeria needs the Whistle-blowers Act.
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