Anti-corruption bill protects whistle-blowers

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By Omar Bah

The Gambia Anti-Corruption Bill has provided the much-anticipated protection for whistle-blowers. The country has no or very limited whistle-blower protection. This has prompted calls from civil society organizations especially Gambia Participates to put pressure on the government to implement comprehensive whistle-blower protection laws. Over the years, few civil servants who were bold enough to speak out were either dismissed, suspended or redeployed. Recently, a staff of the Gambia International Airlines was dismissed for speaking out against corruption while three staff of the Department of Agriculture were also reportedly dismissed for the same reason.

According to the Anti-Corruption Bill currently under review at the National Assembly, if any book, paper or other document, or material which is given in evidence or liable to inspection in any proceedings in any court, the giver of such documents should be protected from discovery. However, according to the bill, a person who gives the information knowing it to be false commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of one D100, 000 or imprisonment for two years.

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On the protection of witnesses, experts and victims, the bill provides that the commission shall ensure the effective protection from potential retaliation or intimidation for witnesses, experts and victims who give testimony concerning offences relating to corruption and, as appropriate, for their relatives and other persons close to them. 

The Gambia still has in its laws an Official Secrets Act. The Act was originally introduced in 1922 by the British Colonial administration to prevent ‘unauthorized disclosure’ of official documents and information. The law was amended in April 2008 and it became illegal to publish or communicate “any secret official code, word, sketch, plan, article, note or other document” which may be useful to an enemy. The Jammeh government also increased the penalties for the offences of disclosure of official information and set a minimum sentence of 30 years and a maximum term of life imprisonment. Journalists reporting on security issues run the risk of contravening the Official Secrets Act without any criminal intention on their part. Furthermore, the Public Security Act can be invoked to compel journalists to reveal their sources or face a heavy penalty or jail time.