PAZA makes submissions on Whistleblowers bill

Introduction

The introduction of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistleblowers) is in tandem with practice of ethical journalism in so far as protection of sources and the media’s role as watch dogs is concerned.

The bill will also help the media because the media are whistle blowers in themselves and need to be protected just as much as the press needed to protect their sources of information.

The other aspect to this is that the bill if passed will contribute in major way to the fight against corruption as persons who might have information on such vices will be encouraged to disclose such information without fear of suffering unfair adverse consequences.

PAZA supports the Bill because the association has advocated for laws that will enhance the fight against corruption which is the biggest vice face by the third-world countries.

Specific observations

The Bill seeks to protect an individual who makes a disclosure about a serious wrongdoing. It is that it will protect whistle blowers from penalties if the disclosure is made in good faith, if the wrongdoing is exceptionally serious and influenced by a matter of fact, not just simply because the worker reasonably believes the wrongdoing is serious.

Mr. Chairman, PAZA believes that such a disclosure should not be for personal gain. In serious cases, the individual discloses the information to a wider base, for example the media, MPs or the police. In order to be protected the matter that has been disclosed to this wider base must involve one of the following scenarios:

The matter was not raised internally or with a prescribed regulator, because the worker reasonably feared that he or she would be victimized.
 The matter was not raised internally because the worker reasonably believed that there would be a cover-up and there is no prescribed person outside the company to whom the worker could speak.
 The matter was raised internally or with a prescribed person, but was not dealt with properly.

When an individual wishes to make a less serious allegation, the disclosure will be protected by the act if the disclosure is in good faith, the individual believes the information is substantially true, and he or she is not acting for personal gain. Furthermore, one of the following must be true in order to gain protection:

 The worker reasonably believes that he or she would be subjected to a detriment by his or her employer if disclosure were to be made to the employer or the prescribed person
 The worker reasonably believes that disclosure to the employer would result in the destruction or concealment of information about the corrupt act.
 The worker had previously disclosed the same information to his employer or to a prescribed person

Furthermore, it must also be reasonable for a worker to make the disclosure. Such factors as:

 the identity of the person to whom the disclosure was made (e.g. the media)
 the seriousness of the wrongdoing
 whether the wrongdoing is continuing or is likely to occur again
 whether the disclosure breaches the employer’s duty of confidentiality to others
 what action has or might be expected to have been taken if a disclosure was made previously to the employer and
 whether the worker complied with any internal procedures approved by the employer if a disclosure was made previously to the employer

As PAZA Mr Chairman, we believe that a deliberate effort must be made to strengthen the Bill for it to contribute effectively to the fight against corruption. One of the measures must include the right by the media players to access information even in these establishments. The proposed Bill is still open to manipulation where the employee is equally benefitting from the corrupt Acts.

Under such circumstances, corrupt deeds successfully committed jointly by the employers and employees will remain under cover for as long as the relationship between the involved parties remains sound.

The Act must also specify that any contract between a worker and his employer, which would prevent the worker from making disclosures protected by the new provisions, is void.  

Along with the passage of a Freedom of Information law, this law will be a major step in opening up space for progress to fight corruption and other malpractices in public and private sectors.

Conclusion

It is our submission that this progressive piece of legislature will only succeed with demonstrated political will. The decision by the state actors to put together this law needs the support of all Zambians and as PAZA, we wish recommend that the Act be widely publicized to the employees, employers and the media who are the main stakeholders in the fight against corruption.

If political will to fight corruption is absent amongst the political class and institutions at the very top levels of society, it can be difficult to bring about reform. PAZA believes that anti-corruption reformers must find more detailed avenues to strengthen anti-corruption institutions.

 Apart from putting together this Act, the standard approach of pushing for a stronger anti-corruption fight, orchestrating publicity campaigns and integrity training for public officials generally should be commenced.

Institutional frameworks on which to hang such initiatives must be strengthened while the media should also be given a special place in the fight against corruption and, especially in the new Public Disclosure Act.

The above Submission was made to to the Committee on Legal Affairs, Governance, Human Rights and Gender Matters Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill the Press Association of Zambia . NAB no 12, 2010”

March 1, 2010

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