By Kwazi Dlamini

British philosopher John Stuart Mill once said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

In South Africa in the recent past, corruption and dishonest individuals have thrived under the unobservant eye of their peers, while those who are watchful of crooked ways either turn a blind eye or are silenced. 

The ongoing commission of enquiry into state capture laid bare how some public servants participated in the irregular looting of public funds. For others, ethics and regulations drive them to do the right thing – these ethics and regulations apply on a personal level, and they enjoin such honest officials to expose their counterparts who break the rules. Corruption Watch (CW), as an organisation committed to fighting and exposing malfeasance, receives a number of reports from those concerned public servants who are willing to do right. 

But besides their courage, these public servants need to know what to do when they witness misuse of public funds. The Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari) has published a valuable new toolkit for public servants, which supports public servants who wish to make a report.

In part A, the 44-page booklet discusses the standard of behaviour that is expected of a public servant, as well as current legislation, policies and measures that exist to fight corruption. In part B it lays out a step-by-step process on how to go about making a report or disclosure, and the laws available for protection.

The booklet also explains why it is important to report corruption, and advises on organisations that can assist those willing to make a disclosure. In this it is helpful to anyone, not just to government employees.

Download the booklet

What to consider when you want to make a report

The toolkit guides public service employees on what they need to consider before making a disclosure. Blowing the whistle on corruption is the right thing to do, but those affected by that action may view it as betrayal, while those who notice unethical acts by their superiors or colleagues or are requested to perform actions that seem unlawful, and in both cases decide to report, are likely to be shunned, labelled, resented, or abused. 

The booklet singles out political leaders who look away out of fear, “This becomes even more complex if you are a member of the party that governs in the province that you and the person or people you have noticed acting improperly, work in. More so, if they are a senior member of the party you belong to. It may feel like you are betraying your own organisation.”

Pari says resentment might not be the biggest price to pay for reporting corruption, as making a disclosure can have serious consequences for both those implicated and the whistle-blower. In the current surge of corruption in the country, results of exposing malfeasance can go either way – the implicated person will lose their job and be charged, or the whistle-blower will be punished while the perpetrator gets away with it. 

The toolkit emphasises that potential whistle-blowers must acknowledge these possibilities before making a disclosure. 

Pari lists several ways public servants can protect themselves and their jobs after making the disclosure. It also gives details of recent amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act (PDA) that strengthen the protections available to those who want to blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

CW contributed to the PDA amendment bill in 2016, expressing concern that the amendments were not comprehensive enough and still left gaps in some areas. We also had concerns about the implementation of the bill and certain practical challenges which face employees and workers when making protected disclosures.

The booklet covers these amendments, which public servants should familiarise themselves with to help them make an informed decision.

Remedies for occupational detriment are suggested, including requesting a transfer, applying for witness protection, approaching the Labour Court or High Court for relief, and other legal remedies.

Entities and organisations that can assist

The booklet lists several relevant government entities and non-governmental organisations that will assist any public servant willing to make a disclosure.

The South African Revenue Service works on allegations of corruption related to tax and customs, while the Independent Police Investigative Directorate investigates improper conduct by members of the police service.

Public servants can use non-governmental organisations to report irregular conduct, such as CW and Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse.

Why disclosure is important in its own right

CW seldom receives reports of corruption where the whistle-blower is expecting monetary rewards, but it happens. Pari emphasis that public servants understand why just making the disclosure is the right thing to do. The gains of exposing corruption are bigger than an individual, as exposing corruption safeguards state resources and increases the capacity of the state to deliver services to the poor. 

Disclosure may achieve justice and restore the integrity of the department where the public servant is located; it will also improve public trust in the government. Codes of ethics command public servants to report any wrongdoing.

For South Africa to reduce the plague of corruption, public servants must live by the words ‘if you see something, say something’. While the call for whistle-blowing is emphasised, the brave individuals must be supported and educated about all avenues available to them, and protected after they have taken the big step.