Do we have a moral duty to report wrongdoing in our place of work? Do we have a moral duty to report corruption, expose it and bring those that are greedy and selfish to face the law? Do we? Must we? Blowing the whistle on colleagues, family and friends, can we really do it?
Because fighting corruption at times means doing just that, whistleblowing. Whistle blowers are people who report the illegal or fraudulent actions of their employers and colleagues. There are some serious personal and professional costs associated with calling out wrongdoing. Whistleblowers are often lauded for their bravery and honesty by some and loathed for their disloyalty by others. They are the first line of defence against corruption, crime and cover-up. So it is only good and moral to protect them, if one is serious about fighting corruption. Whistleblowing is an essential element for safeguarding the public interest and for promoting a culture of public accountability and integrity.
At global level, Botswana is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which under Article 33 Protection of Reporting Persons is as follows:
Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustiï¬ed treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.
Like many countries, Botswana passed the Whistleblowing Bill which was enacted in November of 2017. This is a step in the right direction. It is however important to interrogate the Whistleblowing Act and reflect on the law, its interpretation and implications, and identify key conditions for providing effective protection for whistleblowers. The object of the Act is stated as follows:
“…to provide for the manner in which a person may, in the public interest, disclose information adverse to the public interest; to provide for the manner of reporting and investigation of disclosures of impropriety and the protection against victimization of persons who make the disclosures…”
The Act describes a whistleblower as someone who makes a disclosure of impropriety, either orally or in writing, in good faith, which disclosure the whistleblower believes to be true. The disclosure has to be made to an authorized person. “Disclosure of impropriety” is a disclosure of what the whistleblower believes shows or tends to show impropriety. Section 3 sets out numerous acts which would constitute impropriety including but not limited to a criminal or other unlawful act that has been, is being or is likely to be committed, where health and safety is likely to be endangered, where the environment is likely to be endangered and conduct of a person which amounts to breach of public trust (to name a few).
“Authorized persons” to receive disclosures of impropriety are: the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) the Auditor General (AG) the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), the Botswana Police Service (BPS), the Ombudsman, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) and the Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA).
In terms of the Act, an authorized person shall be obliged to receive a disclosure but has the discretion to determine whether or not the disclosure reveals impropriety. It proposes to provide protection to a whistleblower and makes the making of false disclosures, disclosing the identity of a whistleblower, the disclosure by a whistle blower to a third party of the contents of a disclosure made to an authorized person, disclosure of the details of a disclosure, victimization of a whistleblower and willful failure by an authorized person to take action on receipt of a disclosure, criminal offences with sanctions consisting of fines of up to P12,000 (approximately US$1202) and/or imprisonment of up to 7 years depending on the offence committed.
Despite the undisputed benefits to society, there remains some hostilities towards whistleblowing. Whistle-blowers are often victimized, isolated, criticized and in the workplace even dismissed for their actions. It is therefore important that they are properly informed about their rights and how best to raise their concerns about wrongdoing: who to speak to; how to speak and what to speak about.
Concerned citizens or employees who bring up issues regarding their communities or places of work should not be disturbed in their work or lives in any way and should be able to continue without fear of any punishment whether physical, social or emotional. Therefore, protection, safety and security of whistleblowers must take precedence, in the evoking of in good faith provision. Whistleblowing is an act of bravery and no matter what, such an act will have consequences – most likely negative at a personal level.
Conflicts of Interest, Nepotism, Cronyism, Asset and Interests Declarations and Whistleblowing
When a culture of nepotism, cronyism and lack of integrity, transparency and accountability entrenches, blowing the whistle carries connotations of betrayal. Consequently, institutions and citizens lose out when there is no one willing to speak out in the face of corruption. Corruption often goes unopposed when people do not speak out about it.
Whistleblowers claims must always be investigated, the issue of discretion is problematic in our legislation when it comes to receiving disclosures and their investigations. Real or perceived incidences of abuse of power, corruption, fraud and numerous shades of mismanagement and maladministration in both the public and private sectors must be reported, and this makes whistleblower protection an imperative of our time.
The Britain’s Institute of Business Ethics research (2007) established that “while one in four employees are aware of misconduct at work, more than half (52 %) of those stay silent”. And in a 2009 a Transparency International (TI) Report, following a survey of whistleblower measures in 10 countries, indicated: “… the majority of people who experience or suspect wrongdoing do not disclose the information.” One could argue that we view whistleblowing as a threat to one’s career and/or even life where stakes are high.
Victimization is ultimately the principal concern of whistleblower protection. Therefore, to use the Act as a tool to fight corruption the levels of security and safety must be raised so high that people feel safe to blow the whistle because they are ensured it will not be punitive for them.
In conclusion, having the Whistleblowing Act in place is noble, however, it must be an instrument that works for the people and the state. I would argue for the establishment of an equipped Whistleblowing Protection Unit, an autonomous and unprejudiced, to handle issues of whistleblowing. It would assist in the proper decision making on policy direction and best practices, appropriate actions to be taken on disclosures and investigate reports on detrimental action against whistle-blowers. Whistle-blower training will be crucial to provide for public sector agencies and publicly traded corporations and their management and staff.
And finally, questions one must know the answers to before blowing the whistle, to ensure one’s own protection by the law:
What happens after the disclosure is received? Any clear laid our procedures? How are issues of secrecy and confidentiality dealt with? To whom to send the disclosures? Are there categories in regards to who people report to? What is allowed to happen in terms of reporting to permit protection? Are the institutions obliged to take disclosures? Is there a category of persons who may acquire the role of a whistleblower? Does the environment really allow for the protection of whistleblowers? Who has first access and when does the protection start? What are the channels to follow upon receipt of a disclosure? Are barriers high enough for protection? Any non-state bodies to be considered e.g. CSOs to receive disclosures, and what are the legal implications?
Whistleblowing should also be distinguished from laws and policies on protection of witnesses.There is often confusion on this issue with many governments and media mistaking witness protection laws for whistle-blower protection laws. There is some overlap between the two, often including a promise to keep the identity of the individual conï¬dential.
Whistleblowing is about preventing harm to the career and interests of the individual at the workplace. In whistleblowing, the focus is on the information, not the person who made the disclosure. Often, they are not asked to be witnesses but are merely bystanders once the disclosure is made. As noted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly “a whistle-blower will not necessarily wish to, or need to appear in court, considering that whistle-blowing measures are designed to in the ï¬rst place to deter malpractices or remedy them at an early stage.”
As a practical matter, laws on witness protection are relating to a much more serious matter, involving usually the physical protection of the individual who will not testify in a criminal case unless they are promised protection, including from physical threats, and possible relocation. Witness protection can also be broader in scope, involving people who are not in the organization and might have merely seen something or come across the information they are being asked to testify on as part of their jobs. Source: Whistleblowing International Standards and Developments, Transparency International, 2009
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.