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”.

A Snapshot of ATI in Africa

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To mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information, ODAC's interns (Samantha Paisley and Elizabeth Matulis) have consolidated a snapshot review of access to information and Internet from across the continent this year. And the message is clear: we should be doing a lot better. #IDUAI2016 is an opportunity to reflect on the African experience on access to information, and greater progress has to be made.

You can download your own copy of the report here.

The Information Regulator on #IDUAI2016

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- By Gabriella Razzano

Today, 28 September, we celebrate worldwide the International Day for Universal Access to Information (#IDUAI2016). The Day was adopted after intense lobbying by ODAC and the rest of the African Platform on Access to Information Working Group. The Day is vital for spreading the word about the importance of access to information, and in South Africa provides a vital opportunity for a rallying call on the new role of the Information Regulator.

Very recently, the National Parliament recommended Adv. Pansy Tlakula for the role. This was not met with uniform support by all circles but – in acknowledgment of the importance of ATI that today highlights – ODAC feels it is vital to consider why the role is so important, and so urgently needed.  The Regulator will have jurisdiction and enforcement powers over both the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), and will serve as an important mechanism for protection of privacy rights as well as access to information rights. But why does this matter?

The right to access information expressed in section 32 of the Constitution has been given effect to through PAIA. Yet, as the primary instrument for promoting access to information and a fuller realisation of all rights, there are issues in implementation of the PAIA that ODAC has consistently been witness to over the years.

Through our own research, and research done in partnership with other groups, we have discovered that:

  1. Awareness of the Promotion of Access to Information Act is associated to social and educational status;[1]
  2. In turn, there is indication that ‘legalistic’ requests that are submitted are more likely to be responded to that ‘normal’ ones, which does not bode well for the average user of the Act;[2]
  3. A comparison between the statistics of a student requester compared to the statistics of a coalition of non-governmental organisations that work on PAIA demonstrate that a novice requester will receive far more refusals (86% refused versus 56.5% refused);[3]
  4. Regardless of the type of requester, it is clear that non-responses or refusals to access remain significantly high; yet
  5. Litigating on PAIA is made difficult due to significant costs and delays, and remains largely within the purview of non-governmental organisations as a method of recourse.[4]

It is within this problematic human rights context that the Protection of Personal Information Act 2015 created an Information Regulator as a form of ombudsman mechanism, which will try and provide fast, efficient and considered recourse for all South Africans. The need for the Office is patently urgent. ODAC calls on all involved, to mark the special occasion of #IDUAI2016, to do everything we can to make sure the formal establishment of this Regulator is made a priority. 


[1] Razzano, G (2015) Accessing Information? What we Know from User Experiences, available at http://opendemocracy.org.za/index.php/what-we-do/access-to-information/odac-paia-users, p 5.

[2] Van Der Mey, S & Eyal, K (2014) The Impact of Emotional ‘Affect’ on Municipal Budget Transparency in South Africa: A randomized control trial using PAIA requests, accessed 15 March 2015, available at https://open.uct.ac.za/bitstream/item/10148/Stephanie%20van%20der%20Mey%20Transparency%20in%20Municipal%20Budgets%20PAIA%20Final%20Version.pdf?sequence=1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] PAIA Civil Society Network (2015) PAIA Civil Society Network Shadow Report 2014 (South Africa: SAHA), p.13. This was vitally confirmed by Kader Asmal, who noted that benefits of PAIA fell beyond the reach of the majority of South Africans because of the absence of a free and easily accessible mechanism for redress on access to information disputes. See Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Chapter 9 Institutions (2007) Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Chapter 9 Institutions: A report to the National Assembly of Parliament (Parliament: South Africa), available at http://www.sahrc.org.za/home/21/files/Reports/Report%20of%20the%20Ad%20Hoc%20Committee%20of%20chapter%209.%202007.pdf.