Durban - A public protector’s report that found that the Department of Justice in Pietermaritzburg had unfairly dismissed a whistle-blower - and ordered that she be re-instated - has been hailed a victory in the fight against corruption.
Public Protector Thuli Mandosela found that there was maladministration in the justice department regarding the treatment of the whistle-blower, named only as Mrs M, who was born in the Eastern Cape.
Mrs M worked at a division of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court Master’s office that dealt with children.
She was dismissed by the department in 2010 while on sick leave for occupational stress that she developed because of the continued victimisation by her fellow workers.
According to Mrs M, the dismissal caused her to lose her house, and exacerbated her health problems as she no longer had medical aid.
On January 30, after an investigation by the public protector that found she had been unfairly treated, the department agreed to re-instate Mrs m and move her to another office.
The Right2Know campaign hailed it as a “rare victory” for whistle-blowers, while Corruption Watch commended Mrs M’s bravery.
Mrs M’s problems began just months after she began working at the Master’s office in Pietermaritzburg in 2004. She had uncovered that certain officials were misappropriating funds from the Guardians Fund.
“She said that in some cases... funds were paid to non-existent beneficiaries,” Madonsela told reporters recently.
“In some cases empty envelopes were given to beneficiaries, while officials within the Master’s office kept the original cheques.”
Mrs M said she approached the Master and the department to tell them about the conduct of the employees, but no action was taken. “Soon thereafter the wrongdoers started to harass her. By May 2006, two years into her job, Mrs M had suffered occupational stress due to the continued victimisation,” Madonsela said. “Medical practitioners said she should be transferred to another office of the department.”
This was not done and in March 2012 the department stopped paying her salary. A conciliation process was held with officials from the office of the public protector, and it was agreed that Mrs M should be re-instated.
However, she was not re-instated after the process and the department denied it had agreed to do so. It was only on January 30 this year that the director-general of the department agreed to re-instate her.
Mrs M will be moved to another office in the department.
Madonsela said the agreement matched her recommendations in the report.
“I think the leadership of the department of justice is doing the right thing,” she said. “I have already indicated that it is not about doing it right the first time, but it is about correcting human imperfections.”
The Right2Know campaign welcomed the whistle-blower’s reinstatement.
“The reversal of her unfair dismissal was a rare victory for whistle-blowers in South Africa,” it said.
“The public protector has rightly described whistle-blowers as heroes, and yet across society, in government and the private sector, these heroes continue to face dismissal, persecution and even death threats from those who wield power.”
The organisation said democracy-building required a commitment to transparency.
Bongi Mlangeni, executive director at Corruption Watch, said Mrs M’s courage to report corruption was commendable.
“Speaking out and exposing the corrupt is an important step in this fight.
“The actions of the whistleblower in this case appear to reflect the type of determination and lack of fear that needs to spread around the country if we are to win the battle against corruption,” Mlangeni said.
Reg Horn, managing director of Whistle-blowers, a company that allows people to sound the alarm anonymously on corruption and maladministration in their workplace, agreed.
“Many countries, including our own, are realising that having a whistle-blowing system in place is vital,” he said. “It is important for people to know their rights and for education programmes around whistle- blowing to be implemented in the private and public sector.”
Fight against graft costly
While there are laws that protect people who blow the whistle on corruption, taking a stand can often lead to harassment, assault or in the worst cases, death.
Mbombela (Nelspruit) municipality speaker, Jimmy Mohlala, was gunned down outside his home in January 2009, after his exposure of irregularities in tenders issued for the construction of the R1 billion Mbombela Stadium for the 2010 World Cup.
Mohlala had claimed to have evidence in tender irregularities and underhand dealing between businessmen and politicians relating to the awarding of the construction of the stadium.
He had further alleged that the then-Mbombela municipal manager had connived with stadium contractors to steal public money. He also alleged that there had been corruption relating to housing.
Solly Tshitangano blew the whistle on the Limpopo textbook scandal last year. A few months later the Limpopo Department of Education dismissed him.
Tshitangano worked as a general manager for finance in the department and sounded the alarm over the tender of the delivery of textbooks being awarded to EduSolution after 22 other companies were disqualified for technical reasons.
He wrote to the MEC for education in Limpopo, the premier, the minister for basic education and the president, highlighting several concerns, including that it would cost the department more if the contract was outsourced.
Tshitangano was, however, dismissed for fruitless and wasteful expenditure “incurred while he was the acting chief financial officer”.
He is challenging his dismissal in the Labour Court.
Oupa Matlaba, a Johannesburg City Power employee, who tried to blow the whistle on tender irregularities within the entity, was killed on November 22, 2011, while he sat in his car in his driveway.
The killing came just days after he had gone to the unions with allegations of corruption related to a multimillion-rand tender at the utility.