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Jail term for leaking whistle-blowers' identity

by Staff reporter
23 Aug 2021 at 06:45hrs | Views
Staff of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) who leak names or identify whistle-blowers will face jail terms of up to six months, along with ordinary disciplinary action under legal amendments proposed by ZACC itself. At the same time, ZACC will not protect those who maliciously make false reports against others, pretending to be whistle-blowers.  ZACC differentiates between reports made in good faith, even if they are found to be wrong after investigation, but does not wish to be used as a tool in personal vendettas or disputes.

The proposed draft amendment to the Act under which ZACC operates, which has since been sent to the Office of the President and Cabinet, seeks to promote a culture of reporting all corrupt activities without fear of victimisation and with full protection for whistle-blowers.

The confidentiality of the whistle-blower identities should stop the problem faced by whistle-blowers and State witnesses in high profile graft cases at parastatals under ZACC investigation being harassed through suspension, transfer, at times being charged on frivolous allegations to cripple ZACC investigations.

At a recent ZACC annual general meeting, the commission's executive secretary Ms Sukai Tongogara said victimisation of whistle-blowers and witnesses was a cause for concern and there was need for a law that protects them.
"Our main challenge, in terms of investigation is victimisation of witnesses. We have had our witnesses in several cases victimised for testifying in corruption cases or for coming to ZACC offices to have their statements recorded.

"We have made arrests in terms of the Prevention of Corruption Act for victimisation of witnesses, but Zimbabwe has no harmonised law for the protection of whistle-blowers and witnesses.

"This is where we are appealing to the powers be, that we have referred a draft lay Bill to the Office of the President and Cabinet for whistleblower protection and we hope the powers be will deal with this issue as a matter of urgency because this is the biggest challenge we are facing," said Ms Tongogara.

Highlights of the whistle-blower provisions in the draft Bill prepared by ZACC define a whistle-blower as any person who makes a report to the Anti-Corruption Commission about the commission, attempted commission or suspected commission of an illegal corrupt practice by a person in a public or private organisation.

Whistleblower provisions in the draft lay Bill, according to ZACC encourages informants to reports all corrupt activities in line with President Mnangagwa's anti-graft stance. The purpose of the whistleblower provisions is to encourage persons who have knowledge of the commission of illegal corrupt practices to report such practices to ZACC and to provide protection to persons against any reprisals, prejudicial action or penalisation of such persons for having reported the commission of an illegal corrupt practice in a public or private organisation.

The draft Bill provides that where any person has evidence of the commission or attempted commission of an illegal corrupt practice or believes on reasonable grounds that an illegal corrupt practice has being or is being committed, that person may make a report about the illegal corrupt practice to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission must ensure that the identity of that person is kept confidential and is not disclosed without the consent of the person making the report, except where a person has committed the crime of maliciously making a false report.

The provisions of the draft lay Bill make it an offence for any commissioner, officer or employee of ZACC  who discloses the identity of a whistleblower to any other person within the commission who is not authorised to receive this information or to anyone outside Commission without the consent of the whistleblower.

An offender found guilty will be liable to a fine of level 3 or 6 months' imprisonment or both, reads a summary of the draft Bill. While those making malicious false reports will not be protected, those who act in good faith, even if wrong, will be. Any person who makes a report of a suspected illegal corrupt practice to the ZACC in good faith and on reasonable grounds, according to the draft, will have immunities from criminal or civil liability.

The draft lay Bill provides that ZACC may establish a system of rewards for the supply of information about corruption provided that information leads to the conviction of the corrupt person or recovery of the proceeds of corruption. The commission, according to the draft, must take all necessary steps to protect a whistleblower against being subjected to prejudicial action for having reported corruption with the protection given before and after the trial.

The draft Bill also provides that any person who suffers loss as a result of reporting a corrupt practice is entitled to recover such losses by way of an action for damages or by way of compensation from a compensation fund set up for this purpose.

The Herald understands ZACC has complained over actions which seem to at least verge on victimisation of employees who had passed on information about where they worked and who were key witnesses in cases under investigations.

Some witnesses were arrested on questionable grounds by other investigating arms engaged by the top management, which affected corruption cases being investigated by ZACC. Others were moved from the head office to faraway stations, making it difficult to provide ZACC with the most wanted information to prosecute the corrupt.  Some were made to work night shifts only while others were suspended from work after their identities were disclosed to the employer as whistleblowers.

President Mnangagwa personally intervened in a case of Zesa staff by ordering their reinstatement after they were dismissed for being whistleblowers on corruption that was threatening to ground the power utility. He made the call at a launch of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Act to pave way for the establishment of a platform of social partners — the Government, labour and business — to discuss pertinent issues affecting the economy.

The eight Zesa workers were victimised for exposing a corruption saga during the time of former Zesa chief executive Engineer Joshua Chifamba. The workers in question are Florence Taruvinga, Gibson Mushunje, Admire Mudzonga, Ackim Mzilikazi, Given Dingwiza, Tariro Shumba, Stephen Moyoweshumba and Joanes Chingoriwo. The whistleblowers had given information that allegedly linked the management and former Minister of Energy and Power Development Samuel Undenge to a public relations project involving Oscar Pambuka and Psychology Maziwisa.

Other issues raised by the workers included the awarding of the Gwanda solar project without allegedly where they suggested that Zesa had not followed laid-down procurement procedures and that a payment of the US$5 million was given to the proposer without bank guarantees. ZACC investigations were also reportedly hampered at the Red Cross Society where some bosses were being accused of corruption.

Some whistleblowers were identified and fired, which affected ZACC investigations. At the Registrar General's office, ZACC also cried foul after some witnesses were demoted while others were transferred upon disclosure of their identities.

Source - the herald
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