By Adeboro Odunlami
The Whistleblowing Programme by the Ministry of Finance commenced in December 2016 by an announcement made by Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance. The Ministry, in setting this Programme in motion, merely made an announcement and released a FAQ document which purported to answer reactive questions. The FAQ document has since then been the only available document which purports to answer glaring questions as to the protection of the private data of whistleblowers under this Programme. Although the senate at its plenary session on 8th June 2017 passed the Witness Protection Programme (Establishment, etc.) Bill, the Bill is technically not yet law.
In reviewing the bit of information which has been put out on the subject matter, it is obvious that the Ministry has not averted its mind to:
a. The difference between public sector and private sector whistleblowing: The protection of whistleblowers in banks and other private/quasi-private institutions should be differentiated from the Ministry of Finance’s. This is because while the former may deal primarily with curbing loss of employment and workplace victimization, the latter must, in addition, deal with protection of life, property and freedom from government intimidation.
b. The need to guarantee the privacy of data: Although the fundamental right of private and family life is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the policy or legislation which would regulate the Whistleblowing Programme must also guarantee that the Ministry will put in best practices to protect the data of every whistleblower.
c. The need for prevention before breach: Looking through the FAQ, it is almost as though the extent of protection offered to whistleblowers is directly proportional to and effective upon a breach of their data. Apart from the fact that no intentional structure has been put in place to keep their identities safe, the personal data of the whistleblower first has to be breached and he has to suffer adverse treatment in retaliation before the Ministry would ‘protect’ his privacy (more or less, by investigating his claim of breach and taking further appropriate actions)
It is therefore proposed, given the foregoing, that the Ministry of Finance prepares a scheme or policy to supplement the Bill that recently passed the Third Reading in the Senate. This Policy should serve to bind the Ministry in the regulation of its laudable Whistleblowing Programme. In preparing the Policy, the Ministry is advised to strongly consider and engage the use of technology in protecting the privacy of its whistleblowers.
A Whistleblowing Committee with legal practitioners, technology experts, and Members of the Nigeria Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department; among others, should be established. The policy should also not just guarantee the safety of the whistleblowers but must prescribe a structure to back up the guarantee. As earlier said, a structure built on technology is the best bet for a safer system of protection. For instance, the Policy should provide for protective measures to be employed in data transfer, should consider the possibility of and prevent interception and hacking of the Ministry’s computer systems, should consider anonymization of data and the desirability of a third party repository for the data. Finally, there must be provisions for what would constitute a breach of such private data and the remedies available to a whistleblower in the event of such breach (whether or not he has suffered any loss or retaliation).
In conclusion, the Whistleblowing Programme is laudable as it will go a long way not only in fishing out corrupt citizens, but also to serve as a deterrent to the continuity of the menace called corruption. It must, however, be understood that whistleblowing is a risky activity which may involve, among other threats, a threat to both the whistleblower and his family. It would, therefore, be prudent on the part of the Ministry of Finance to put extra effort into ensuring that the trust reposed in it is firmly kept.
This is a summary of a report on the whistle blowing protection policies of Nigeria authored by Adeboro Odunlami.