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Whistleblowing Act and the Authorised Persons

Unpacking the Act for Better Implementation  
 
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 unjustified 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.

Recommendations

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 confidential.

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 first 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

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Opinions

Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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Opinions

The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Opinions

Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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