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Clarity on whistle blowers could boost anti-graft war

Almost a month later and the drudgery surrounding the fight against corruption remains on our shoulders. Its weight is on everyone’s shoulder and, in their true element, Kenyans have found comical ways to deal with the discomfort.

Their musings oscillate between hope and scepticism as President Uhuru Kenyatta makes one damning declaration after the other. His latest pronouncement demanding all State and public officers undergo a lifestyle audit caught the majority of Kenyans by surprise.

To some, however, it was just another Public Relations exercise that will eventually rise to naught. This, they assert as especially true where the President’s close allies are concerned.

However, there is a new phenomenon in our midst. One that if properly cultivated will lend a hand in the fight against corruption. By publicly exhibiting his displeasure at theft and plunder, Uhuru has emboldened some Kenyans who have wholesomely bought into whistle-blowing against perceived or known graft lords.

This is taking shape as a ‘name-and-shame’ revel on social media. Kenyans are telling on their friends and neighbours whose wealth is suspect or unaccountable, according to them.

Those on the receiving end of the gossip are taking in the information with zeal, an indication the public is fatigued from the plunder but also relieved at the scrutiny that is piercing into the country’s coffers.

But, how then can we maintain this zeal? How do we protect the whistle blowers and to what extent do we safeguard the rights and freedoms of those implicated in the disclosures?

Whistle-blowing undermines secrecy and builds public trust. It enables transparency and accountability especially where the right structures and frameworks exist.

To begin with, whistle-blowers should have at least two levels of institutions through which they can give information and share suspicions.

First level institutions include the organisations they work in. If their concerns are not addressed or there is likelihood of victimisation, whistle-blowers can move to second level institutions such as Parliament and the media.

To bulwark the above, there is need for a legal framework on whistle-blowing that can effectively deal with the message and not the messenger.

The message should be dealt with objectively whether true, false, confidential or otherwise. In the same breath, the law should protect the reputation of persons against malicious and frivolous allegations.

In essence, the law should restore damage to muddied statuses and enable sanctions against those giving false information. At all times, however, the double-edged legal provisions must be made clear to all would-be whistle-blowers.

Further measures towards entrenching a whistle-blowing culture should include prevention, deterrence and compensation mechanisms.

All information must be treated in confidence so that those making disclosures should not be victimised or treated unfairly. This will include deterring employers from intimidating employees when they give information and compensating them where they fall victim.

Whistle-blowers should also be empowered to ‘last the distance’. This requires that they and their kin and property are kept safe and updated on the progress of their cases. Legal assistance and counselling also come in handy in high-stakes cases.

Kenya already has the Witness Protection law that established the Witness Protection Agency, funded by taxpayers. How the agency achieves its mandate, however, remains a mystery even to those required to know about it.

But while its obscurity is understood, Kenyans need to feel it has an impact on their ongoing struggles. It should, therefore, purpose to lure whistle-blowers from Facebook and Twitter into safer witness protection systems as we fight against corruption. – The writer is an Advocate and author of ‘Teens’ Guide to the Constitution of Kenya’

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