While the launch, earlier this year, of the new Corruption Watch initiative is to be welcomed, I, like you perhaps, found myself wondering what would make this initiative a success when so many others have failed.
Having been personally involved in the outsourced hotline disclosure business since 1999, it is absolutely clear to me that the difference between success and failure is marked by the total commitment, direction and example-setting from the top leadership of an entity coupled with an unwavering commitment to following up and investigating every incident that is reported. Needless to say this should be done objectively, professionally and without fear or favour.
The public is not easily fooled and for a service to be successful it has to earn its stripes. Only once people are happy that their concerns are being addressed will they embrace a service. If not, as is patently the case with embarrassing performance of the President’s Hotline, the people will vote with their feet! This will be the benchmark by which Corruption Watch will be measured and one can only hope that they make the grade.
Ongoing awareness and universal accessibility are also critical success factors and it should be obvious that it is absolutely pointless and ineffective to have a big launch followed by a deafening silence!
My experience has also been that hotline disclosure services operated by and on behalf of private sector entities, and especially large corporates, achieve, as a rule, far more success than other organisations. I would hope that this can be largely attributed to the widespread implementation of the King Code of Corporate Governance within businesses in South Africa but what other dynamics are at work here?
I believe that another significant contributing factor is that private sector entities put their money where their mouths are! While there are clearly exceptions to this rule, I believe that corporate leaders tend to get on with the job and spend less time and effort on simply just talking a good fight. Crime Line (www.crimeline.co.za) which is a corporate-led and resourced public-private partnership is an excellent example of what can achieved when the principles are correctly applied.
With respect to the fight against corruption there is evidence of a serious credibility gap in our society but particularly in the public sector. Many of our leaders love to talk about their commitment to beating corruption, unlawful and inappropriate behaviour but often that’s where it ends. They simply don’t walk the talk! On the other hand while we love to criticise and point fingers at fat cats and applaud when they are finally convicted and punished, many of us conveniently disregard the logs of biblical proportions in our own eyes
It should be patently clear that introducing a disclosure service is not for the faint hearted! By taking this step, and thereby drawing a line in the sand with respect to their commitment to openness, integrity and transparency, the leaders of an organisation need to realise that they are going to receive some unpleasant and unexpected surprises often involving close and trusted comrades, loyal staff members and even family members! This is, however, where the rubber meets the road and where those leaders who are merely paying lip service to dealing with crime and corruption are separated from those with real integrity and commitment.
Another very strange anomaly is that when institutions like the Scorpions, the Special Investigating Unit or the Office of the Public Protector achieve success we either close them down, meaninglessly shuffle senior personnel or starve them of the resources that they require to perform their functions.
This month is the 12th anniversary of the promulgation of the Protected Disclosures Act (Act 26 of 2000) (PDA) and while this legislation does provide a good starting point, it has some key shortcomings and is long overdue for revision. Apart from the Cape Town based Open Democracy Advice Centre (www.opendemocracy.org.za) which provides excellent information on the Act and a very useful advice line to support would-be whistleblowers, there is virtually no communication from the side of government regarding the provisions of the Act and the protection that is afforded to people wishing to make disclosures. The fact that it took eleven years for the Practical Guidelines for Employees document to be gazetted is perhaps an indication of the priority accorded to this matter by the government.
The PDA does provide a measure of protection against victimisation by employers or “operational detriment” for whistleblowers but the scope of this protection is totally inadequate and has not kept pace with the realities, and perhaps the uniqueness, of our situation. Rather like the limitations of a restraining order in affording any concrete protection to a victim of domestic abuse, the protection provided by this Act doesn’t afford any substantial protection and especially not if you’ve already been killed or if your family are forced to live in another country to avoid reprisals!
It should then be quite clear that the whole question of the anonymity and the protection of a person making a disclosure is of paramount importance. We have found that more than 80% of people making disclosures via our service actually provide us with their identity and contact details but request that these details not be communicated to the client entity. This is very valuable as we can act as a bridge between the caller and the client to facilitate the ongoing flow of information without compromising the identity (and safety!) of the whistleblower. What is also apparent is that once the whistleblower is satisfied that the coast is clear and that the likelihood of reprisals is minimal; he or she will often make contact and offer to provide an affidavit or even appear as a witness for the prosecution.
Another reason why many people don’t always embrace these reporting services is that from bitter experience the percentage of transgressors who are actually ever prosecuted – not to mention convicted and imprisoned – is appallingly and unacceptably low. For our society to really embrace and take ownership of these initiatives this has to change very quickly.
There is some confusion about who the quote “cometh the hour, cometh the man” should be attributed to but there should be absolutely no uncertainty that at this time in our adolescent democracy South Africa is screaming for more bold and fearless heroes who are leading the pack in ridding our country of this endemic scourge. We need many more Thuli Madonselas, Willie Hofmeyrs, Vusi Pikolis, Paul O’Sullivans, Terry Crawford-Brownes, Patricia De Lilles, Andrew Feinsteins and Hugh Glenisters. The challenge to all of us is not just to moan to our friends around the braai but to stand up and be counted!