Can whistle-blowing keep corruption at bay?

For successive years, Rwanda has been ranked as the least corrupt country in the EAC bloc and fourth as the least corrupt country in Africa. Obviously, on the one hand, the ranking looks quite impressive and, on the other hand, calls for more action and devising new approaches to keep corruption at bay.

For successive years, Rwanda has been ranked as the least corrupt country in the EAC bloc and fourth as the least corrupt country in Africa.

Obviously, on the one hand, the ranking looks quite impressive and, on the other hand, calls for more action and devising new approaches to keep corruption at bay.

And one of the viable approaches in this undertaking is to shore up whistle-blowing.

We either keep the pace against corruption—and maintain the status quo—or relax and eventually slide back. In my view, scoring the best ranking isn’t the epitome of the matter, but, rather, to uphold the moral values typical of Rwandans.

Accordingly, UNDP defines corruption, more elegantly, as ‘the misuse of public or private power, office or authority for private benefit’. So, what more can be done to curb it?

Can whistle-blowers offer a significant contribution to the fight against corruption? Who is a whistle-blower? Is he/she legally protected? And, if so, are people knowledgeable of this right?

To begin with, the term ‘whistle-blower’ should be broadly interpreted and focus attention on alleged wrongdoing, of course, including corruption.

Interestingly, a UN Special Rapporteur, David Kaye, defined a whistle-blower as ‘a person who exposes information that he or she reasonably believes, at the time of disclosure, to be true and to constitute a threat or harm to a specified public interest, such as a violation of national or international law, abuse of authority, waste, fraud, or harm to the environment, public health or public safety’.

Under Rwandan law, a whistle-blower is protected (law n° 35/2012 of 19/09/2012 relating to the protection of whistleblowers). Broadly speaking, the purpose of this law is to protect, in public interest, whistle-blowers who divulge illegal acts and behaviors in public, private institutions and elsewhere.

In view of the law, relevant institutions, especially the Office of Ombudsman, should promote and protect the right of whistle-blowing with respect to acts of corruption and bribery.

If corruption is normalized in society, stamping it out becomes an uphill battle; it’s akin to killing a snake in the bush.

Even if the law protecting whistle-blowers does exist, it’s not enough to guarantee the protection. To date, many Rwandans are unaware of whistle-blower’s rights, and how they can blow the whistle to corruption—as one of the most pernicious vices society.

Regrettably, in the law often limits whistle-blowers to those who blow the whistle in the context of their work-based relationship. However, a person may come up with information of public interest even when outside such a relationship. The UN Convention against Corruption contains no employment limitation.

Non-work-related whistle-blowers may include patients who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in a hospital, parents who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their child’s school, and students themselves.

Typically, a whistle-blower will enjoy a work status, but because of the range of others who may report wrong-doing, such as consultants, interns, job applicants, students, patients and others who do not enjoy a legally protected relationship with an organization, such a limitation is questionable.

Even those who are supposedly protected legally, they may fear to report alleged wrongdoing because of possible harassment, intimidation and other forms of retaliation.

Ideally, whistle-blowing isn’t an attack against a person’s integrity, it is within the realm of the right to know, accountability and democratic governance.

Most importantly, such are the core values Rwanda fosters. Rwanda, as a country that has set an example in terms of open data and in fighting corruption, should promote disclosure and not require potential whistle-blowers to undertake precise analyses of whether perceived corruption merits and without necessitating to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ as may be required in legal gymnastics.

Equally, it is important to stress that the whistle-blower’s motivation at the time of the disclosure should be immaterial to an assessment of their protected status. However, it must be done in good faith.

At times, much attention may be focused on motivation of the whistle-blower rather than the veracity and relevance of the reported information.

Raising the awareness of whistle-blowers’ rights and its contribution in the fight against corruption should be one of the approaches to use. There could be a lot of covert information related to corruption that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing but ends up unknown.

In as much I may go along with the protection of whistle-blowers in respect to wrongdoing, this right isn’t absolute, and it doesn’t apply to matters related to national security—such as intelligence information.

In tackling corruption, government should follow a bedrock of compliance, integrity and community-based approaches. In this regard, there’re three fundamental levers of human action through which you can transform a corrupt society, or corrupt person, namely coercion, interest and virtue.

Coercion means command-and-control regulation and is part of the toolkit of any State. Interest, as a major approach in regulatory intervention, creates the desired economic incentives in the regulated entities to curb corruption. Virtue relies on education, understanding, civic commitment and self-righteous moralizing.

The writer is an international law expert.

 

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