The most common dilemma facing whistleblowers and members of the public, who want to report corruption, is fear for their safety and victimisation.
Some people turn a blind eye to corruption for fear that acting on it will jeopardise their careers, or even their lives. But there are laws that protect whistle blowers or people who report corruption in South Africa.
The government’s Anti-corruption hotline allows people to report corruption anonymously and this way, the identity of people reporting corruption remains protected.
Launched on 1 September 2004, the aim of the anti-corruption hotline was to create a central database for the reporting and monitoring of cases of corruption, while eliminating the duplication of investigation and resources.
The Public Service Commission (PSC), as the institution tasked with overseeing the performance of the public service, are custodians of the hotline. By dialling the hotline on 0800 701 701, anyone can report acts of corruption through the hotline.
From September 2004 to March 2017, the hotline was given a stamp of approval for its role in the netting of 3 655 people, who were found guilty of misconduct.
“We are making a dent as shown with the numbers: 1 740 officials were dismissed, 450 were fined, 140 were demoted, 927 officials were given final written warnings and 395 were criminally prosecuted,” says Public Service Commissioner Sellinah Nkosi.
At the end of the 2017/2018 financial year, through the successful investigation of cases reported through the hotline, R420 million was recovered back into the public purse.
While ordinary citizens are encouraged to report corruption, public servants are obligated to do so.
“Public servants are obliged to report incidents of corruption because if you are aware of something wrong happening and don’t report it, it could mean you are also party to that,” says Nkosi.
When lodging a complaint or reporting an act of corruption, callers are asked a series of questions pertaining to the act that is being reported. This assists investigators to narrow down their search and zone in on their target.
Once reported, cases are forwarded to the relevant departments and public entities for investigation. The departments and public entities are then required to provide feedback to the PSC on the progress made.
Feedback on the cases is then captured on the Case Management System (CMS) of the hotline to enable complainants or whistle blowers to track progress on the cases they reported.
But with matters like corruption, fear often stops potential complainants from blowing the whistle.
“Some of the challenges we experience are drop calls. People are worried and afraid to report corruption. Even when they report, when you ask probing questions, they drop the calls because they are afraid that you might recognise who they are and because they are afraid of victimisation, especially public service officials.
“They are afraid of victimisation and also occupational detriment that once it is known that they have reported these allegations, they will suffer at work,” says the Commissioner.
To combat the element of fear and ensure the protection of whistleblowers, the Protected Disclosures Act lists the PSC as one of the institution’s protected under the Act.
The Act, dubbed the Whistleblowers’ Act, makes provisions for employees to report unlawful or irregular conduct by employers and employees, while providing for the protection of employees who blow the whistle.
“I am happy that in the Protected Disclosure Act, the PSC has been included as one of the bodies that you can report to because in the past, people would be afraid to report because they would think that they are not protected. Whistleblowers are protected and can report anonymously,” says Nkosi.
In addition to fear, Nkosi says another setback for the hotline was the reduction of the centre’s operating hours, which were cut from 24 hours to only eight hours, five days a week.
“We used to operate 24 hours, seven days a week and we would notice then that most of the calls would come in after business hours, because people have knocked off and are not at their places of work and can freely engage us. But due to financial constraints, we had to cut down to reduce costs.
“While we want to operate up until 7pm or 8pm in the evening, that has financial implications because our staff has to work shifts,” says Nkosi.
The Commission plans to approach ICASA for the possibility of making the hotline a toll-free number because a person may want to report corruption and will be asked a list of questions, all this while using their own airtime.
Although many hurdles exist at the hotline, the PSC remains steadfast that every call that results in successful investigation chips away at the scourge of corruption.
“Corruption is rife, but we will never give up and say we are not winning the battle. If one person is arrested then it is fine. At least something is being done, unlike when nothing is happening to people who are corrupt,” says Nkosi.
Despite the challenges, the hotline continues to grow from strength to strength.
During the 2017/2018 financial year, the PSC received a total of 882 cases through the anti-corruption hotline. In this period, complaints about social grants fraud led the pack with 594 cases reported through the hotline.
Cases which made the top 10 cut for complaints lodged include:
- Unethical behaviour (69);
- Fraud and bribery (34);
- Appointment irregularities (26);
- Procurement irregularities (24);
- Abuse of government resources (18);
- Maladministration (15);
- Criminal conduct other than fraud and bribery (17);
- Abuse of power (14); and
- Identity fraud (13).
With these notable achievements, Nkosi encouraged all citizens to make use of the hotline and play their part in bringing an end to corruption.
“We want to fight corruption because as we know our government is not rich. The GDP is not growing and we are no longer collecting tax that will be able to service everything that has to be serviced and so the little resources we have must be taken care of and used efficiently.
“We therefore encourage both public servants and the public at large to report any corrupt act because an allegation remains an allegation until it is investigated,” says Nkosi.