The Minister of Justice should protect whistleblowers and not threaten them

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By Madi Jobarteh

If the Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow is truly interested in combating corruption, abuse of office and the overall good governance of the Gambia then he must be seen protecting whistleblowers and not to threaten them. Whistleblowing is not a crime. Rather it is a critical instrument in the fight against corruption and recognized by international law. This is why the UN requires all member states to create the necessary legal measures to protect whistleblowers.

Whistleblowing is an anti-corruption tool and an ethical act. Transparency International describes a whistleblower as a person who, “discloses information about corruption or other wrongdoing being committed in or by an organisation to individuals or entities believed to be able to effect action – the organisation itself, the relevant authorities, or the public.”

Across the world one can find in many countries laws that do not only protect whistleblowers, but also public institutions and private companies create their own whistleblowing policies and structures just to encourage whistleblowing. This is because in these institutions and companies they agree that whistleblowers perform an important service to the public and to the Government and companies themselves when they report evidence of wrongdoing.

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In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that,

“Encouraging employees to report wrongdoing and to protect them when they do, is essential for corruption prevention in both the public and private sectors.  Employees are usually the first to recognise wrongdoing in the workplace. Empowering them to speak up without fear of reprisal can help authorities both detect and deter violations”

OECD maintains that whistleblower protection is essential to safeguard the public interest and to promote a culture of public accountability and integrity.

Therefore, the Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow should be seen encouraging and protecting whistleblowers in the public sector. The Minister should be reminded that the Gambia Government ratified the UN Convention against Corruption on 8th July 2015. Convention provides that people who report or blow the whistle should be protected as stipulated in Article 33 that,

“Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.”

This is an obligation that is imposed on states parties to create the necessary laws to protect whistleblowers. The question now is, has Minister Dawda Jallow caused the creation of any such a law in the Gambia? If not, it means the Gambia is not fulfilling its obligations under this international law. To go further to seek punishment for whistleblowers constitutes a clear and direct violation of the Convention by the Gambia Government. This is not the kind of advice and guidance the Minister should give to the Government.

Rather one would expect that Minister Dawda Jallow will take practical steps in fulfilment of the Gambia’s international obligations to combat corruption by encouraging and protecting whistleblowers. For example, the Gambia has had the Access to Information Act since August 2021. Until now the Information Commission that should have been set up under this Act has not been done. This is the issue that should really interest the Minster to do. It is now more than 12 months without any Information Commission being established.

The concerns of the Minister that civil servants are leaking government documents to journalists and others should not be a cause for fear if indeed Jallow is committed to transparency and accountability. So far, thanks to whistleblowers in the public service, we have seen so many scandals exposed which are in the public interest. Dawda Jallow must realize that public office and public resources are no one’s personal fiefdom to do as you like. If public officials are afraid of whistleblowers, then let them act according to the law and in the public interest so that they will have nothing to hide.

Public officials cannot abuse their offices and authority in making harmful decisions to the detriment of the public yet expect to be protected. How did we come to know about the corruption and harmful decisions behind Securiport? If whistleblowers did not expose the harmful and illegal Securiport deal it means the Government will not seek to review the contract? So, the fact that the Government has gone into a corner to try to review the contract shows the good job whistleblowers play.

Therefore, let me put it to Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow not to harm decent, conscientious, and patriotic civil servants who see wrongdoing in their offices and expose it. These people are safeguarding the public good and they must be encouraged. I hereby demand Mr. Jallow to draft a whistleblowing bill so that the National Assembly can approve it for the protection of whistleblowers to promote open, honest, and accountable public administration and good governance in the Gambia. I urge all public institutions, private companies and CSOs to develop whistleblowing policies and structures to encourage whistleblowing and the fight against corruption and abuse within their entities.

To all public servants and employees in private companies and CSOs, I hereby urge you to blow the whistle anytime you see any harmful decision and misconduct against public interest. Whistleblowing is an ethical act that persons with conscience do at great personal and professional risk because they want to expose wrongdoing in their institutions, organizations, or companies. You will receive reprisals and retaliation from your colleagues and those in power like Minister Dawda Jallow. But this is the price of standing up by your principles and defending the interest of your people and country. Bravo to all Whistleblowers!