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Editor’s Memo

Blowing the whistle

EVERY year thousands of employees, managers, corporate officers, and public officials in Zimbabwe witness wrongdoing in the work place. Some blow the whistle on the maladies, o

thers don’t.

The actions of whistle-blowers may ultimately save the nation billions of dollars. Accountability and service delivery have improved in countries where whistle-blowing is encouraged and those caught with hands in the till are dealt with.

Whistle-blowing is oftentimes associated with the heroics of the do-gooder whose disclosure is meant for the public good. Then there are those who work on the basis of strict principle because of ethical or moral beliefs. This group tends to be conservative and devoted to their work and the welfare of their organisations.

Zimbabwe has for the past three months witnessed a spirited attempt by government to fight corruption and whistleblowers have been exposing malfeasance, especially in the financial services sector.

This week the parliamentary committee on public accounts reported that parastatals’ finances were a shambles. Whistles have not started blowing from quangos where fiscal indiscipline appears to be an accepted business norm.

Information from whistle-blowers should come in handy for law enforcement agents most of whom are academically-incapacitated to investigate and secure convictions in white-collar crimes.

We have been told some officers investigating cases of fraud cannot even interpret a balance sheet and have to be led by the nose through the maze of figures by informants. In such cases it is easy to misinform the police who will have egg on the face during trials.

Amidst the frenzy of corruption busting, law enforcers have a tacit duty to examine the integrity and intentions of the whistle-blower to sniff out rogue informers trying to cover up the paper trail of their own misdeeds.

Elsewhere in this papers we carry allegations by NMB Bank directors – currently on the run – that a former employee dismissed from the bank on charges of misconduct, blew the whistle on them.

Whistle-blowers can be driven by a real or perceived injustice within the company and feel it is their duty to expose it to the authorities.

There are others though with ulterior motives such as seeking revenge, or a destructive falling out of the concerned parties.

There are others who wish to destroy a company’s reputation, accusing it of acting illegally, immorally, or irresponsibly. Such whistle-blowers are usually driven by vengefulness against an employer or former employer for being fired or demoted.

Such whistle-blowing is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways! The whistle-blowers can get the world to know about how terrible they believe their employer, or former employer, is. Information availed by such a whistle-blower can do damage to the litigation case, especially if the whistle-blower is made to appear as viciously vindictive.

We recall in 2000 when certain business individuals “blew the whistle” on businessmen Nigel Chanakira of Kingdom Securities, Intermarket’s Nicholas Vingirai and executives at First Mutual Life on allegations of insider-trading. The arrests provided good copy to newspapers and government was quick to advertise its newfound credentials in fighting corruption in high places.

Despite cartloads of documents wheeled into newsrooms and into the Fraud Squad base at Ahmed House by the whistle-blowers none of the business executives was tried, let alone convicted.

Anti-corruption legislation in most countries encourages whistle-blowers to report corrupt acts to the relevant authority, regardless of the motivation. Such legislation also provides protection to whistle-blowers as it is believed that they are a key component to any systematic fight against corruption.

But others believe the quality of information and tips provided by whistle-blowers should be subject to scrutiny by an independent anti-corruption body to unravel motive and the veracity of accusations. Amendment 16 to the Constitution of Zimbabwe promulgated way back in 2000 provides for the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission. No commission however has been set up and government has instead created a fully-fledged anti-corruption ministry.

The need to check on whistle-blowers is a contentious one as anti-corruption bodies have always advocated their protection. The argument is that checking on the credentials of whistle-blowers would discourage others, which would in turn become a hindrance in the fight against corruption.

But the current anti-corruption drive and the legislative environment it is taking place in in Zimbabwe leave a very thin line between genuine whistle-blowing and outright malevolence. It assumed a new impetus after the amendment to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act through a presidential edict last month. Suspects can now be detained for almost a month on the basis of information provided by whistleblowers notwithstanding the accuracy of the information and intention of the informant.

Needless to say there is great scope for a noble idea going off the rails!

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