The winter Parliament due to kick off in a fortnight stands on the precipice of history in our modern democracy.
Presidential Affairs and Public Administration minister, Eric Molale will lay the Whistleblowing Bill before legislators, which if approved, marks a new chapter in accountability and transparency in Botswana.
According to its preamble, the Bill seeks “to provide for the manner in which a person may, in the public interest, disclose information adverse to the public interest”. It seeks to provide for the manner of reporting and investigations of disclosures of impropriety and the protection against victimisation of persons who make the disclosures”.
Under the Bill, harassing or otherwise penalising a whistleblower, disregarding whistleblowing or failing to protect the identity of a whistleblower are all punishable offences. A false whistleblower is also liable to a P10, 000 fine or five years imprisonment.
While the Republic has steadily built up various institutions to safeguard public accountability and enhance the pursuit of transparency, the tendon linking this goodwill with action has been missing.
While accountability institutions such as the DCEC, Auditor General, DIS, BURS, Financial Intelligence Agency and the Ombudsman exist, the lack of whistleblowing legislation has meant providers of information to these institutions do so at their own risk. These risks include prosecution, dismissal from employment and persecution.
The vacuum caused by the lack of this critical legislation was brought somberly home this week, when a parliamentary committee sat to investigate allegations of fraud and corruption at Statistics Botswana.
Legislators in the committee noted that their ability to adequately investigate the allegations was limited by the need to identify the credibility of the accusers in the matter. With the mover of the action unwilling to name his informants, it remains to be seen how far the committee will be able to carry out its investigations. Whistleblowing is a fundamental instrument necessary in the pursuit of greater accountability and transparency in the management of the public purse.
The DCEC, Auditor General, DIS, BURS, Financial Intelligence Agency and the Ombudsman cannot have ears everywhere, but civil servants, their clients and other stakeholders exist to raise the alarm where necessary. Looking at the bigger picture, whistleblowing legislation is yet another box ticked for investors who have long lauded the country’s impressive investment climate.
Whistleblowing provides investors with the assurance that government has zero tolerance for corruption, maladministration, laziness or any type of conduct that is against the public interest.
In a ferociously competitive global economy, it is no longer adequate that countries vie for investors in terms of the natural resources they possess. Discerning, visionary investors are ranking economies according to their commitment to governance institutions, which include those dedicated to accountability and transparency. We call on legislators to soberly and thoroughly study the Whistleblowing Bill with a view to strengthening our democracy.
“A government for the people must depend for its success on the intelligence, the morality, the justice, and the interest of the people themselves.”
- Grover Cleveland