OPINION | Play your part and blow the whistle on corruption

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South Africans have a responsibility to provide relevant information related to squandering, maladministration, and misuse taxes to the law enforcement agencies, writes Phumla Williams. 

One of the most common dilemmas facing whistleblowers and members of the public, who want to report corruption, is fear for their safety and victimisation.

Understandably, some people turn a blind eye to corruption for fear that acting on it will jeopardise their careers, or even their lives.

What is of concern about this phenomenon though is that many of us seem to lack appreciation that there are laws that protect whistle blowers or people who report corruption in South Africa.

When the Anti-corruption hotline in the public service was launched in 2004 it provided for anonymous reporting. This was to create a climate that is hostile to corruption and protect the responsible citizen reporting.

In this context, let us salute all South Africans who have taken it upon themselves to use the available mechanisms to report corruption for the good of the country.

Let us also thank members of the media for their role in uncovering some of the cases of corruption that continue to bedevil our country.

Anti-corruption society

Although the Public Service Commission, as the institution tasked with overseeing the performance of the public service, are custodians of the anti-corruption hotline, it is necessary that we should also consider encouraging all other sectors of  society, to follow this example of reporting corrupt practices so as to develop a truly anti-corruption society.

According to the anti-corruption hotline from September 2004 to March 2017, was able to expose a total 3 655 people, who were subsequently found guilty of misconduct within the Public service.   

Of these figures, the Public Service Commissioner Ms Sellinah indicates that 1 740 officials were dismissed, 450 were fined, 140 were demoted, 927 officials were given final written warnings and 395 were criminally prosecuted during that period.

At the end of the 2017/2018 financial year, through the successful investigation of cases reported through the hotline, R420 million was recovered back into the public purse.

Clearly, whatever it is that we have to do to address the issue of corruption, it requires all of us to stand up and say no to wrongdoing.

In the past few weeks, South Africans observed in horror, as reports emerged of dishonesty and corruption in the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment. 

These included overpricing of goods and services, violation of emergency procurement regulations, collusion between officials and private sector service providers, abuse of food parcel distribution, and the creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding. 

Many of these cases did not just land by themselves in the media, but it took some honest and dedicated individuals to report the wrongdoing in the procurement of PPEs and the misuse of Covid19 relief funds.

Reporting or blowing the whistle on corruption is one of the duties of an active and responsible citizen. 

While ordinary citizens are encouraged to report corruption, public servants are obligated to do so.  

Many public servants are afraid of victimisation and occupational detriment that once it is known that they have reported these allegations, they will suffer at work.

The Protected Disclosures Act was introduced precisely for this reason to combat the element of fear and ensure the protection of whistleblowers.

The Act makes provisions for employees to report unlawful or irregular conduct by employers and employees, while providing for the protection of employees who blow the whistle.

The law enforcement agencies have been trained to ensure that they protect the identity of the Whistle-blower, and to treat all passed on information as confidential.

Whistleblowing hotlines 

The whistleblowing hotlines do not make use of tracing and caller identification technologies, and hotline operators are trained to respect the wishes of a caller should they choose to remain anonymous.

Any information received is also stored in a secure manner until such time as it is passed on to the investigating officer. 

Accordingly, legislation is also in place to ensure that all crimes involving corruption and stealing of public money are dealt with decisively. As an active citizen, it is your responsibility to provide relevant information related to squandering, maladministration, and misuse of your taxes to the law enforcement agencies.

Dealing with corruption is not just an issue of law enforcement.  We need to build a caring society that takes it upon itself to act against the scourge of crime and corruption and an ethical society that respects humanity.

Our small practical actions such as refusing to pay a bribe, refusing to pay your way to the front of the list for tenders, will go a long way to show those involved in corruption that South Africans are no longer tolerant of wrongdoing.

Let all of us who may suspect or witness cases of corruption to do our part and pick the phone and dial the anti-corruption toll-free line on 0800 701 701.

- Phumla Williams is the Director-General at Government Communication and Information System

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