By Calvine Oredi
Kenya faces corruption as one of its major challenges and ending it has proved elusive with un-ending judicial circuses. As some sort of un-emphasized tool, protecting whistle-blowers becomes a sure way of nailing corruption cartels, to ensure their safety from the corruption kingpins.
For the war on corruption to be eradicated, deliberate attempts must be made to protect whistle blowers willing to expose mega corruption scandals. Because of the serious threats and dreadful consequences emanating from the perpetrators, fear of whistle blowing has resulted in many corruption scandals going un-reported, in what would be otherwise straightforward accounts of conviction.
Previously, whistle blowers who exposed corrupt malpractices have lived in constant fear – David Munyakei (Goldenberg) and John Githongo (Anglo-leasing) – or paid with their lives – Oscar King’ara and Paul Oulu (extra-judicial killings by police) and Jacob Juma (NYS, Eurobond, Langata Primary and Weston Hotel land grabbing).
We must commend, in this regard, Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti for the rare resolve in parading graft suspects in court to face trial. However, concrete evidence to sustain full conviction is the missing piece. Whistle-blowers can come in handy in unravelling the complex web of corruption networks. Additionally, the Witness Protection Agency is also available to provide protection to whistle blowers who agree to unmask themselves and testify in court.
Protection of whistle blowers will further require an enabling legal framework, which is currently lacking. The Kenya Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act provides protection on assistants, informers, witnesses and investigators but does not specify on whistle blowers. Section 41 of the Public Officer and Ethics Act seems to discourage whistle blowing. It states, “A person who, without lawful excuse, divulges information acquired in the course of acting under the Act is guilty of an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both.” The Witness Protection Act on the other hand is only limited to providing protection to witnesses willing to testify in court but is silent on their protection.
Interestingly, the Access to Information Act, 2016 gives effect to the right of access to information by citizens as provided for under Article 35 of the Constitution. The Act also provides for the protection of persons who disclose information of public interest in good faith, including whistle blowers, and allows the public to seek for any information from the government.
At his point, the fight against corruption should focus more on safeguarding whistle blowers against retaliation, intimidation, harassment and even death. It is important to fast track the Whistle Blower Protection Bill and review existing legislation such as the Witness Protection Act and the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act to provide for comprehensive protection of whistle blowers.