President Cyril Ramaphosa says the fight against corruption has gained momentum since the state capture investigation began its work. For this reason, the government must urgently review its current approach to the broader protection of whistleblowers by tightening existing laws and policies.
The president made the remarks Monday in his weekly newsletter following the fatal shooting of Babita Deokaran, a senior financial official at the Gauteng health department. Deokaran was a long-time whistleblower who had reported alleged wrongdoing and corruption in the department. She had been a key witness in the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) investigation into fraudulent Covid-19 personal protective equipment contracts.
“Regardless of the circumstances behind this tragedy, Ms. Deokaran was a hero and a patriot. As are the legions of whistleblowers who, at great risk to themselves, help uncover wrongdoing, mismanagement, cronyism, and theft. "Without your courageous, principled interventions, we would not be able to expose those who commit acts of corruption," she said. Questions have been raised about the protection of key witnesses after Deokaran's murder. Ramaphosa admitted that while options were available, more needed to be done.
“In South Africa, there is extensive legislative protection for whistleblowers, including through the Protected Disclosure Act, Labor Relations Act, Companies Act, Privacy Act. against harassment and the constitution itself. In addition, the Department of Justice and Corrections, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, administers the Witness Protection Office to provide support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in court proceedings. . Ramaphosa stressed that witness protection was voluntary and that neither the police nor the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could compel a witness to do so. In the event that a witness received threats or felt unsafe, he was asked to notify investigators and request admission to the program.
“It is clear that as the fight against corruption gains momentum, we urgently need to review our current approach not only to witness protection, but also to the broader protection of whistleblowers,” he said. he declared.
“We need to strengthen existing systems and provide more support to those who publicly disclose information. As a society, we must identify where existing laws and policies are inadequate to protect the livelihoods, reputation and safety of whistleblowers, and work together to address them. " The president also used his weekly newsletter to highlight the plight of private sector whistleblowers whose actions receive less attention but are just as important.
“Whistleblowers are important guardians of our democracy. They are sounding the alarm bells against unethical acts and practices in government and organizations. They speak out in good faith and with a reasonable expectation that not only will action be taken on their disclosures, but that they will also be protected and will not suffer victimization or harm. " Whistleblowers like Deokaran could not be disappointed when they exposed corruption under the harshest eyes, Ramaphosa said.
“We cannot let them down. We must and will ensure that their disclosures are prosecuted and do much more to ensure that they are protected from harm. “As South Africans, we want to send a strong message that we will not be intimidated. Those behind the killings of witnesses and whistleblowers will be arrested and faced with the force of law, as will all those convicted of the very corruption that these killers are trying to cover up. "
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