Last week legislators in the Chamber of Deputies had a hot debate on a draft amendment of the law on the protection of whistleblowers and introducing a reward to the whistleblowers.
The existing law on the protection of whistleblowers of 2012, doesn’t accommodate incentives for a whistleblower.
So this has become the bone of contention, where the majority of legislators supported it while the minority were against it.
Before looking at the essence of a reward to the whistleblower, let’s ask why the existing law on the protection of whistleblowers is being amended.
It was tailored to protect, in public interest, whistleblowers who report illegal acts and behaviors in public, private institutions and elsewhere.
But, ever since this law was gazetted, now five years down the road, there has hardly been actual enforcement.
The core objective of whistleblower protection law is to promote and facilitate the reporting of illegal, unethical and dangerous activities.
Encouraging whistleblowing on acts of suspected corruption is essential in safeguarding public interest and promoting a culture of openness, accountability and integrity.
However, public officials who report wrongdoings may be subjected to intimidation, harassment, dismissal and violence by their fellow officials or superiors. At times, whistleblowing is even associated with treachery or spying.
It is quite important to note that oversight and enforcement authorities haven’t done enough to enforce existing law on the protection of whistleblowers.
In a sense, the law was adopted to try as practically as possible to keep corruption and bribery practices at bay, as well as to stifle any inappropriate and unorthodox behaviours.
As already noted, the ongoing review of the law is fundamentally centered on the use of incentives to encourage whistleblowing. In my view, the existing legislation on the protection of whistleblowers was unenforced for two possible reasons.
First, there was no effective awareness-raising, communication and evaluation efforts by oversight and enforcement authorities. In other words, no sensitization of public or private sector employees about their rights and obligations when exposing wrongdoing.
Second, most Rwandans have a wrong belief, in Kinyarwanda, that ‘reke no kwiteranya’, loosely means that let me avoid trouble or conflict with someone.
This is a serious problem, even when something is a serious evil to the society.
If the revised law accommodates rewards to whistleblowing, many employees in public and private sectors would be motivated to expose wrongdoings, which will gradually change our mindset.
Indeed, it is profoundly ideal to accommodate rewards systems, including monetary rewards, in bill of law on the protection of whistleblowers so as encourage whistleblowing on behalf of the government in order to recover lost or misused money, and also to prevent misuse of power or any other inappropriate behavior.
People should not see reward as an issue but as a means to put right any inappropriate acts that threaten the very fabric of our society. On the whole, that’s the intent of whistleblowing.
To empathize, effective enforcement of the revised law on whistleblowing would promote integrity, accountability and open culture. The revised law will equally reinforce the compliance with the leadership code of conduct which provides minimum standard of behavior and conduct for leaders, as well as the code of professional ethics for public servants.
The foregoing codes of ethics apply to all government services and institutions governed by general statutes as well as special statutes.
In the public sector particularly, public servants need to know what their rights and obligations are in terms of exposing actual or suspected wrongdoing within the public service.
The use of incentives for whistleblowers is of course unusual in Rwanda but is common in many jurisdictions. In some countries, it is an obligation to report corruption and other malpractices.
In the USA and S. Korea, for example, laws grant monetary rewards if the whistleblowing has served the public interest.
Turning to the whistleblowers, oversight and enforcement authorities of this law must sensitize people to report unlawful behaviors in good faith and on reasonable grounds.
They must underscore the requirement of acting in good faith and on reasonable grounds, otherwise some people could capitalize on this to report untrue information or hearsay intending to put others in the crosshair.
Accordingly, protection is accorded to whistleblowers who make disclosures based upon their belief that the information disclosed is factually correct.
However, the whistleblowers shouldn’t bear the burden of proof of the reported information beyond a reasonable doubt, as if they’re before the courts of law.
The role of a whistleblower is to give a tip-off to the oversight and enforcement authorities and then they carry out their own investigations to get to the bottom of it.
To ensure legal protection of whistleblowers, oversight and enforcement authorities must create a proactive department empowered to receive and investigate complaints of retaliatory, discriminatory or disciplinary action taken against whistleblowers.
Likewise, oversight and enforcement authorities need to avail channels by which protected disclosures can be made. Such as whistleblower hotlines as a mechanism to facilitate the reporting of wrongdoing.
To me, much attention to the revised law should be focused on enforcement mechanisms, rather than fine-tuning the language and other trivial matters.
The writer is an international law expert.