ODAC visits Namibia

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- By Lorraine Martin

ODAC have just begun a project this year which looks to building an African Whistleblowing Network, with the support of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.  We plan on working in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Malawi.  The goal of this project is to build the technical capacities of the Network to influence policies that encourage a culture conducive to whistleblowing.  I began by visiting Namibia.

On my arrival in Windhoek on Thursday 20 July 2017 I was whisked off to a business lunch at the Fresh and Wild Utopia restaurant in Nelson Mandela Street in Windhoek where I met with the Executive Director of The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the Strategic Coordinator of Namibia Media Trust , the Programme Coordinator, at FESmedia,  the, chairperson of ACTION Namibia and the head of Legal Assistance Centre (LAC). 

The conversation centred on our respective whistleblowing laws.  Namibia has a Whistleblowing Bill which is in the final stages of passage through Parliament.  South Africa has had a law since 2000 and an amendment bill has just been passed by Parliament. [Director's note: we are busy doing a refresh of our Code of Good Practice accordingly, and will soon launch a campaign to inform the broader public of the changes, most of which are terrific!]

The organisations mentioned above have been very active in providing input to the passing of the Namibian Bill.  These organisations also form part of a coalition called the ACTION Coalition. The ACTION Coalition is an umbrella body under which a range of activists and civil society and media organisations are gathered in the furtherance of the cause of access/right to information and freedom of expression. The ACTION Coalition has been in existence since 2012 and has consistently engaged both the Namibian Government, and its development partners, on the issue of ATI over the years.

The following morning the Executive Director of the IPPR and I were interviewed on Good Morning Namibia, a breakfast television programme about whistleblowing in our countries. After that we were the presenters at a breakfast seminar at the Nice Restaurant in central Windhoek where the topic was: "Effective whistleblower protections are key to open democracies". The nature and extent of these protections shape the individual’s and the media’s ability to keep public and private institutions accountable. Together, how can we forward a culture of transparency and accountability to meet the needs of citizens? The attendees were mainly members of civil society organisations and media organisations.  Lively discussions followed our presentations.  It is clear that Namibia has a strong civil society and that the whistleblowing legislation is being followed very closely, and will be monitored once the law is enacted.

At about 11h30 I appeared on another television programme called "1 to 1". This was a pre-recorded programme which aired in the evening.  The presenter said that he styled his programme on Hard Talk and he played devil’s advocate quite a bit, which was good because I realised how I was able to defend ODAC’s position on whistleblowing.

Later that evening I bid Namibia goodbye, happy in the knowledge that I had met people who were passionate about whistleblowing protections and happy to be a part of the African Whistleblowing Network.

ODAC at Work

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The staff at ODAC will be working on Friday, in spite of calls for national stay-a-ways by different quarters, and we thought we’d write a brief note on why. The first reason is the simplest and most important: we are committed to advancing transparency and access to information, because we believe that is what will advance the lives of South Africans in the long term. As an organisation focused on a special interest that is of such immense importance, particularly during a time of uncertainty, we believe staying focused and available for citizens on this day (and all those to come) is the greatest value add we can provide, and we remain committed to it. As a JSE expert answered in the face of a question on eNCA about what is needed now: “Information, information, information”.

The second reason is a little pragmatic. We receive funds largely from foreign philanthropy organisations and charities. This is just an obvious reality, which is why we are subject to particular special regulation and audits (just to interject on critiques on our funding – many government departments and projects share some of our funders). Transparency organisations, particularly one like ours that focuses on open information and the protection of whistleblowers, will probably always struggle to receive financial support from our own government. This reality simply means our stay away doesn’t impact local productivity, and we have a duty to spend these resources responsibly, in the face of all politics, because they are donations.

We are focused on advancing transparency, and remain committed to values of openness, honesty and truth. There are of course many civil society organisations specifically focused on political mobilisation, so their mandates are different to ours, and we are here to support them as well. Social change is nuanced – and we believe information and openness are the fundamental grease between the gears of this process. As we noted in our recent statement in support of Mcebisi Jonas’ whistleblowing that exposed the scale of state capture, there are many public servants joining hands in fighting corruption. ODAC must stay available to support people such as him, as well as citizens and civil society organisations, and lend our assistance when the world can appear otherwise hostile to open information.

There is a lot of work to be done that will extend long after Friday, and has been needed for quite some time. We will be working alongside all people to create a South Africa that lives up to its constitutional promises. We deserve it.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: We would like to note that protesting is a right protected by South Africa’s Constitution and the Regulation of Gatherings Act. In this regard, our colleagues from the Centre of Applied Legal Studies have a #RighttoProtest Hotline on 076 265 9085. Please call or text if anyone is arrested during protests. Ahead of any parliamentary action, our partners at Parliamentary Assembly have collated the contacts of your parliamentary representatives at www.pa.org.za. You can also contact our whistleblower hotline on 0800-52 53 52 (0800 la le la). Email for general support on transparency can be requested at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit our website on www.odac.org.za.

Jonas as Whistleblower

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- Gabriella Razzano

On 15 March 2016 Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas let the world know that the Gupta family had “offered” him the job of Minister of Finance. He stated then: "I rejected this out of hand. The basis of my rejection of their offer is that it makes a mockery of our hard earned democracy, the trust of our people and no one apart from the President of the Republic appoints ministers”.

During the cloak of night on 30 March 2017 revenge has been exacted: Jonas was axed as Deputy Minister by President Jacob Zuma, and his future appears uncertain. At ODAC, we have spent fifteen years trying to protect South African whistleblowers, and we speak from experience when we note that this kind of action forms a pattern of delayed yet consistent occupational detriment in the face of disclosure many whistleblowers suffer. The unfair abuse of whistleblowers can extend well past the time of their disclosure – which is why the justified and public support of whistleblowers by rights-thinking people is so important.

Whistleblowers are a vital vehicle of access to information for citizens in the face of state capture and corruption. As Pravin Gordhan noted at a press conference held today to discuss their joint dismissal: “Our souls are not for sale” – but in a world where corruption can be a knee jerk response of those in power, the voice of whistleblowers become even more important.

The impact of Jonas’ disclosure though will live forever. By being open, and providing citizens with access to vital information about the state of South Africa’s government, he contributed to changing the very way we spoke and understood the reality of state capture in South Africa.

We will continue to stand for the rights of whistleblowers such as Mcebisi Jonas – we hope people are inspired by his bravery, rather than disconcerted by the detriment meted out against him as an act of retribution.

The Launch of PPLAAF

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Today marks the launch of the Plateforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte (PPLAAF). PPLAAF is a Senegalese NGO, based in Dakar. The founder of PPLAAF is William Bourdon, president of the French NGO Sherpa which is specialised in fighting economic crimes. William Bourdon is also a leading advocate for whistleblowers and persecuted individuals worldwide including Edward Snowden, Antoine Deltour (LuxLeaks), Hervé Falciani (SwissLeaks) among others.

PPLAAF uniting the best legal experts, NGOs and media from around the continent, is to help ensure that people who choose to do the right thing by stepping forward to protect the common good are not forced to pay with their citizenship, freedom, job, security, income or even their life. The primary aim of PPLAAF is therefore to lower the risks and costs of whistleblowing to the point that they are negligible – for the teacher, the accountant, the soldier, the lawyer and even the minister.

ODAC will be the South African experts providing assistance to the platform. This is because ODAC has for a significant period of our existence focused directly on ensuring that the lived experience of the whistlblower is improved - in a context in which we know whistleblowers are ordinarily persecuted and unprotected. Ensuring that whistleblowers feel safe and support will continue to form a significant part of our mandate as the years go by.

Our association with this platform comes at an important time in our history. With the support of FesMedia Africa, ODAC will be focusing strongly in 2017 on building stronger networks for support of whistleblowers across the African continent. This comes at an important time.The United Nations Economic Council for Africa’s (UNECA) High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows reported in 2015 that Africa lost $50 billion per annum due to illegal financial transactions.One of the most important mechanisms for preventing these kinds of losses can be seen in the establishment of functioning and respected whistleblowing practices to counter such risks. Companies themselves have identified whistleblowing as the most effective tool for fraud detection [1]. In 2016, PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that whistleblowing and tip-offs had been responsible for uncovering 43% of the economic crimes detected.

We look forward to providing effective support to the PPLAAF group, and hope that 2017 can mark the start of a concerted effort to advance whistleblower protections on the continent.

[1] Ayagre, P & Aidoo-Buameh, J (2014) “Whistleblower reward and systems implementation effects on whistleblowing in organisations” in European Journal of Accounting Auditing and Finance Research, Vol.2, No.1, pp.80-90, at 82.)

 

Political language and political action: an OGP lesson for South Africa

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-By Gabriella Razzano

At ODAC, we believe in reflecting and learning – not just in relation to the broader environment, but also in relation to our own work. And following on from the eventful SONA2017, and continuing domestic and international discussions on “political truth”, now is an apt time to reflect on one of our most recent (and simple) learning’s in relation to our Making All Voices Count project on the Open Government Partnership (OGP): South African politics in this year of internal electioneering will mean civil society should rethink its approach to participating in the OGP.

The current broader political climate does not of course detract from how vital the fight for transparency and good governance is. ODAC believes that the OGP is still a vital platform for leveraging these goals in South Africa. What we are reconsidering, however, is how we approach it. ODAC have championed the OGP since its inception in 2011. But difficulties we experienced in implementing a Making All Voices Count project on the issue last year has very real lessons for us all.

The idea behind the project was fairly simple: the OGP can help civil society forward their existing work on transparency, therefore getting civil society engaged on the OGP will lead to better collaboration with government, and better transparency outcomes. In our monitoring and evaluation framework though, we noted that a fundamental assumption was that OGP was not just a “talk shop”. Yet, we have struggled to maintain interest in the OGP from a broader group. As a colleague from civil society of mine poignantly pointed out when we were discussing how to get civil society more involved in the OGP in South Africa:

Civil society cannot maintain enthusiasm in a process when it appears there is all talk, and no action. The political talk around the OGP, while always positive in tone from government, does not seem to be accompanied by strong action and outcomes. Civil society partners then can’t bring themselves to commit to a process that won’t take forward the core of their work. One is reminded of George Orwell’s words on political language: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind”.

But the truth is that there have definitely been examples of collaborations between civil society and government on specific OGP commitments in South Africa that can be viewed as successful (the partnership between Code for South Africa and National Treasury on “Municipal Money” project comes to mind).

So we know broader civil society are not getting invested because political language clouds inaction. Yet, some groups are seeing collaboration on OGP working – what’s the difference? Our research on government coordination on OGP (again a result of support from Making All Voices Count and the Institute of Development Studies) holds a very succinct answer: coordination will only happen when there is a direct benefit to both parties to coordinate, or otherwise its just extra work.

Government and civil society will coordinate on OGP projects, when those projects are not just a talking opportunity, but they instead take forward real transparency agendas for all those concerned. We should not be distracted by empty political rhetoric, but instead seek out the many partners within government taking action on transparency, in alignment with the OGP, in very real ways. We just need to rethink our approach. After all, another very quotable thinker Plato noted it best: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.