The workshop comes at a time when there is a growing fear that those who take the bold steps to expose corruption in work places are put in harm’s way.
Participants from across West Africa have expressed the strong view that inadequate funding and lack of the requisite legal instrument in some countries pose serious challenge to anti-graft institutions’ desire to protect those who provide information of wrongdoings.
The organizers believe that despite the fact that people are aware of the danger corruption poses to development and economic growth, acts of corruption remain largely under-reported, both by direct witnesses as well as by whistleblowers who come across alleged wrong-doing in the workplace.
When asked why they did not report if they were aware of corruption, people most commonly responded that they would not believe in appropriate follow-up to their report; that they were afraid of retaliation ranging from negative consequences for their career to physical threats; that they were afraid of civil or criminal liability; and that they would not know where to receive advice.
“Under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), States parties are encouraged to adopt appropriate measures to protect whistleblowers, witnesses, experts and victims (articles 32-33). Similarly, under the ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight Against Corruption, States parties must adopt laws and other measures “to ensure effective and adequate protection of persons who, acting in good faith, provide information on acts of corruption” (article 5), as well as witnesses and victims (article 8-9). All ECOWAS members have ratified the UNCAC and most also ratified the ECOWAS Protocol against corruption, which entered into force in 2015,” the organizer opined.
The workshop is organized by Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and the Network of National Anti-Corruption Institutions in West Africa (NACIWA).
Delivering his keynote message, Liberia’s Justice Minister and Attorney General, Cllr. Frederick Cherue, stated that the government of Liberia has made tremendous efforts in making sure that corruption is checkmated, adding that in the fight against corruption, information is an important aspect.
According to Cllr. Cherue, this is why it is important to put in place protection mechanisms for those who are willing to provide credible information.
Also speaking at the opening of the three days stakeholders’ workshop, the Executive Chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC), Cllr. James Nyepan Verdier, said the West African sub region is plagued with multiple but very similar experiences relating to weak or non-existent institutions; lack of sustained programs or policy; lack of will power to protect patriotic citizens and residents who expose acts of corruption and those willing to provide credible testimonies in order to convict public officials who stand accused of squandering and diverting public resources for their personal and private benefits.
The LACC boss indicated that this state of affairs does not promote the fight nor minimize corruption but provides avenue for the pillaging of public funds and perpetuating impunity.
He cited the case of Michael Allison who was found dead days after he exposed a corruption syndicate involving some high profile government officials.
Cllr. Verdier pointed out that several attempts have been made to establish “critical instruments” to strengthen the anti-graft campaign but it seems that not much has been done to get those instruments legislated. He disclosed that a “Whistleblower Protection Bill was submitted to the National Legislature for enactment but it has not been attended to.
For his part, the head of Good Governance and Democracy at ECOWAS, Mr. Eyesan Okorodudu, said the timeliness of the workshop cannot be overemphasized taking into cognizance the relevance of the theme to be discussed- the protection of whistleblowers and witnesses in the fight against corruption.
He noted that there are indeed glaring examples of how whistleblowers and witnesses have had threats on their lives or have even lost their lives as a result of corruption fighting back through its perpetrators.
To address the correlation between good governance and democracy in terms of accountability, ECOWAS has moved to setup two key platforms: Network of Anti-Corruption Institution in West Africa (NACIWA) and ECOWAS Civil Society Organization Platform on Transparency and Accountability in Governance (ECSOPTAG) to act as vehicles for promoting and upholding the esteemed trinity value of accountability, transparency and integrity in the management of socio-economic and political affairs of the states.
He stressed the important role of the media and civil society organizations in supporting the work of these two platforms by creating a veritable opportunity for engendering the ordinary community citizen to contribute to the fight against corruption in the region.
The three days event is aimed at increasing knowledge about the systems to protect whistleblowers and witnesses; share experiences and lessons learned from other countries within the region and beyond on whistleblower and witness protection; and identify practical priority actions for West African countries in relation to whistleblower and witness protection.