Enforcing the Whistleblowers’ Act: The challenges
Opanyi Kodjo Attah (name not real), a farmer at Matimeho, residing in the Afram Plains of the Eastern Region, says he has for several years concealed the corrupt practices of a public officer, who stays in the same area with him.
The farmer says he is aware of the civic responsibility that enjoins every Ghanaian to report any suspected corrupt or illegal activity to the security agencies or other related bodies for the necessary action.
Opanyi Attah, however, stated that he would not risk being called derogatory names by members of his community, which would tarnish his image and that of his wife, children, friends and family just in the name of fulfilling a civic duty.
He said in Ghana, people who attempt to expose corrupt practices are rather tagged ‘okro mouth’, anti-social and at times physically or verbally attacked.
Opanyi Attah added a spiritual dimension to the discussion by remarking: “Even if one’s identity can be protected, the village folks can expose him or her through spiritual means. I prefer to accommodate corrupt officials in my community and have my peace than to report them to the security agencies and go through hell on earth”.
Indeed, some people are lip-tight over corruption or other illegal activities that can wreck the nation, and for such people they hold on to the Ghanaian adage which says that, “Country broke oo, country no broke oo, we all dey inside.”
Opanyi Attah’s views show that anyone who would dare to fight corruption should be tough-skinned and should be granted state protection.
No wonder, corruption and unlawful acts persist in the country despite the existent of the Whistleblowers’ Act (Act 720) 2006, an anti-corruption tool that seeks to empower people to expose corruption and wrongdoing in both public and private sector institutions.
Whistle blowing is the act of revealing or disclosing information about another person’s impropriety to one or more persons or institutions specified by the Whistleblowers’ Act to fight corruption, ensure the rule of law, promote good public ethics and preserve the public interest.
It seeks to improve the country’s ability to fight corruption and other forms of unlawful conduct that negatively affect national development.
The Whistleblowers‘ Act does not cover any form of improper act, meaning, it is not every kind of impropriety that a person can disclose under the Act.
The Act accepts six types of impropriety that can be disclosed: economic crime, breaking a law or failing to obey a law which a person has a duty to obey, miscarriage of justice, waste, misappropriation or mismanagement of public resources, environmental degradation and endangering individual or public safety.
The law was based on the idea that if ordinary citizens are empowered to disclose, without fear of victimization, the corrupt and unlawful acts of others, millions of Ghana cedis will be saved each year, respect for decent behavior and integrity will increase, the quality of public service will improve and Ghana would experience speedy development.
The Act mandates a Police Officer; The Attorney General; the Auditor-General; staff of intelligence agencies; Members of Parliament; the Serious Fraud Office; Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ); the National Media Commission and the Narcotics Control Board to receive reports of corruption or illegal activities, as stipulated under the Act.
The rest are the head of a recognized religious body; a District Assembly member, a Minister of State; the Office of the President; the Ghana Revenue Commission; a District Chief Executive; a Chief; the Employer, and the head or the elder of the whistleblower.
One can blow the whistle about any person or institution irrespective of the person’s status or power as long as one has good reason to believe that one has reliable information that confirms an act of impropriety has been committed.
Employees can equally blow the whistle on the employer or another employee, be it one’s supervisor or co-worker. The Act also allows an employer to disclose an impropriety about employees and other persons or institutions.
In fact, whistle blowing applies to both public and private institutions because a person is defined in Section 32 of the Act to include an individual, body of persons, an institution or a corporation; and the whistle can be blown on anyone in either the public or private sector.
A disclosure of any impropriety can be made in either written or verbal forms by simply providing the mandated institutions or persons with an allegation and the fact that supports it.
Every disclosure should contain the full name, address and occupation of the whistle blower; the nature of the impropriety to be disclosed; the name of the person or persons against whom the disclosure is being made.
The time and the place where the alleged impropriety took place or is likely to take place, and the full name of the person who witnessed the alleged impropriety are important in whistle blowing.
Also of relevance is whether the whistle blower has made other impropriety on a previous occasion and if so, about whom and to whom the disclosure was made; and if the person is an employee making the disclosure about the person’s employer or a fellow employee, whether the whistle blower remains in the same employment.
The Ghana Anti Corruption Coalition (GACC), a civil society organization (CSO), recently organized a forum to highlight the findings of its research on the Whistleblowers’ Act, and to share its experience with other CSOs engaging in similar projects in Accra.
The study revealed that the public has very limited knowledge about the Whistleblowers’ Act, and cited inadequate education and awareness creation, traditional and cultural beliefs as some of the facts hindering people from volunteering information on corrupt people in society.
According to the research, the word ‘whistleblowing’ in the local languages is derogatory and people in the study areas struggle to get a suitable local name to replace the so called negative connotation of the Act.
“People also indicated that even though whistle blowers’ identities may be protected, others can use spiritual means to identify the person who reported the crime and harm him or her physically or spiritually,” Mr Roland Akabzaa, Research Officer at GACC, told the forum.
He noted that the GACC regarded the Act as a useful anti-corruption tool and had since been organizing training workshops for identified groups and institutions mandated to handle Whistleblowers’ report.
Mr Akabzaa said the research also revealed that apart from the CHRAJ, many of the mandated institutions at the regional level had not received any substantial training on the Act since it was passed.
He said those institutions also did not have clearly outlined processes and procedures for receiving complaints on whistle blowing.
Mr Akabzaa also emphasised that the implementing institutions such as religious and traditional leaders were also aware of the Act, but did not know the responsibility the Act provides in ensuring that they keep such information confidential, otherwise they would be imprisoned.
He said the media, which had a traditional role to educate, inform and entertain the public, surprisingly were also not aware of their responsibility of handling whistleblowers’ report due to the competition of being the first to break news.
Mr Akabzaa noted that some media personnel argued that because of competition, they disregarded the confidentiality of people who blow the whistle just to outwit their competitors.
Should the media put outwitting their competitors ahead of adherence to rules and regulations? Even if journalists are accused of being ignorant of this Act, what about their professional code of ethics, which requires them keep information they receive confident?
It is about time people are held responsible for their actions and inactions to serve as deterrent to others. Mr Charles Ayamdoo, Director of Anti-Corruption Department at CHRAJ, contributing to the forum, said the Commission prior to the implementation of the Act in 2006, undertook several awareness programmes across the country, and expressed worry about the low level of public awareness and understanding of the Act.
He said the CHRAJ also observed weaknesses such as confidentiality, public sector bias and limited awareness in its research, conducted after the implementation of the Act, which defeated the purpose of the Act.
Mr Ayamdoo, therefore, urged the public to find out the mandated institutions to which to report for protection as stipulated in the Act.
All these limitations only tell those in the helm of affairs that there is the need to intensify education and awareness creation on the Act, provide Legislative Instrument (LI) for the Act to strengthen its implementation,
Designated institutions should create whistle blowers desks for successful enforcement of the Act, and include key officers in the public sector in the training and awareness creation workshops for them to understand and appreciate the Act.
Ghanaians continue to raise issues about corruption and illegal activities, and there is no other time to enforce the Whistleblower Act than now.
The people need to be educated on the Whistleblowers’ Act, particularly on issues bordering on culture and attitude, if we are to succeed in the fight against corruption and illegal practices.
By Patience Ama Gbeze