“You’re a whistle-blower if you’re a worker and you report certain types of wrongdoing. This will usually be something you’ve seen at work – though not always. The wrongdoing you disclose must be in the public interest. This means it must affect others, e.g. the general public. As a whistle-blower, you’re protected by law – you shouldn’t be treated unfairly or lose your job because you ‘blow the whistle’. You can raise your concern at any time about an incident that happened in the past, is happening now, or you believe will happen in the near future.”
-Excerpt from the British Government’s Whistle-blower Policy
The Federal Government of Nigeria has finally taken a major step in the right direction by initiating a whistle-blower policy. According to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the primary goal of the policy is to support the fight against financial crimes and corruption, by increasing exposure of financial crimes and rewarding whistle-blowers. In order to promote such exposure, whistle-blowers are encouraged and offered protection from harassment or intimidation by their bosses or employers. The hope is that more looted funds will be recovered through the encouragement of voluntary information about corrupt practices.
Among the selling points of the policy are (a) the possibility of increased accountability and transparency in the management of public funds and (b) the possibility that more funds would be recovered that could be deployed in financing Nigeria’s infrastructural deficit. In the final analysis, it is hoped that the more accountable the government becomes, the higher will be Nigeria’s ranking on the indicators of openness and ease of doing business. The ultimate goal is to develop a corruption-free society and attract more and more foreign investors.
The whistle-blower policy consists of three major components. One focuses on the channels for reporting information and the type of information to be reported. Anyone, said the minister, who has “authentic information about violation, misconduct, or improper activity which can impact negatively on the Nigerian people and government” should report it through one or the other of three channels: via SMS to 0909 806 7946; via email to Whistle@finance.gov.ng; or by logging on to the whistle-blowers’ portal at <http://www.finance.gov.ng>. Incidentally, my attempt to log on to the portal the other day in a test run was unsuccessful.
The violations include, but are not limited to mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets; financial malpractice or fraud; collecting/soliciting bribes; diversion of revenue; fraudulent and unapproved payments; and procurement fraud (notably, kickbacks and over-invoicing).
The second deals with reward for reporting fraud: The whistle-blower will get between 2.5 per cent (minimum) and five per cent (maximum) of the recovered loot, provided that “there is a voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets on the account of the information provided”. It is still not clear how the exact amount of the reward will be calculated. The policy is also silent on whether whistle-blowers will be entitled to a share of the loot recovered after the looter has been duly convicted.
The third component assures whistle-blowers of protection: “If you feel that you have been treated badly because of your report, you can file a formal complaint. If you have suffered harassment, intimidation or victimisation, for sharing your concerns, restitution will be made for any loss suffered”. It is hoped that the details of the restitution will be fully specified in the policy.
However, before you blow that whistle and expect protection or compensation, it will be advisable to wait until the government has completed the process of enacting a whistle-blower policy that is backed by law. In other words, you must wait for the National Assembly, ever so conscious of its own self-protection, to enact a bill to that effect. Unless the policy is backed by law, it is more or less useless.
This is why some observers are expressing some concern about the fate of the policy. Will the National Assembly quickly and willingly enact the appropriate bill, given the Senate’s ongoing fight against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, by failing to confirm the nomination of its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and the ongoing fight against whistle-blowing by the House of Representatives, which suspended the former House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Albumumin Jibrin, for blowing the whistle on budget padding.
Another source of concern is the Federal Government’s habit of initiating a policy and failing to complete the process or failing to implement it like it has done with over a thousand abandoned construction projects throughout the country. There is, however, a high chance that this may fall out of that notorious pattern, given President Muhammadu Buhari’s focus on fighting corruption. The question is whether his successor will maintain the same focus, unless there is a sound policy that survives his administration.
Whatever the outcome of the policy, its delayed emergence is another indication that the Buhari administration did not start out with a clear conception of how it would fight corruption. Rather, it is constructing its corruption policy as the fight goes along. It is unfortunate that the government needed to run into a brick wall before figuring a way out.
This kind of governance practice is open to hasty judgment, which could lead to serious errors. It will be recalled that, irked by corruption in the justice system, the Presidency went after corrupt judges and lawyers, and nearly bungled the process by involving the Department of State Services, whose handling of the arrests was widely criticised.
That’s why the whistle-blower policy should be carefully crafted, aggressively sold to the public, and quickly delivered to the National Assembly for processing. In crafting the policy, its housing in the Ministry of Finance should be carefully considered in terms of the ministry’s current load of work on the economy and the linkages necessary between the whistle-blower policy and the EFCC, which will prosecute reported crimes. Besides, the policy will do better as a component of a comprehensive anti-corruption policy.
Questions also remain as to whether petitions to the EFCC will continue to be welcome once the whistle-blower policy goes into effect. If petitions will no longer be necessary, then perhaps the whistle-blower policy should be housed within the EFCC.
Finally, the rush by citizens for more information about the whistle-blower policy indicates public willingness to report financial crimes and corruption. The Federal Government should capitalise on this willingness to broaden its anti-corruption fight to states, educational and health institutions, and the private sector. The broader the fight, the more citizens will get involved.