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Pretoria - A report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has found there was maladministration in the Justice Department regarding the treatment of a whistleblower.
The report, which was released on Thursday, concerned a complaint by a woman named in the report as “Mrs M”, who had worked at a division of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court Master's office that dealt with children.
“The department's management failed to protect the complainant against victimisation from her superiors and fellow employees,” Madonsela told reporters in Pretoria at the release of the report.
“The department ignored the issues reported by the complainant and failed to take action against employees implicated.”
Madonsela said Mrs M approached her office in 2010 and alleged that she was victimised and harassed in the first few months of her employment after she discovered that fellow employees were misappropriating funds.
“She said that in some cases... funds were paid to non-existent beneficiaries,” Madonsela said.
“In some cases, empty envelopes were given to beneficiaries while officials within the Masters 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, together with officials from the office of the Public Protector, and it was agreed that she should be reinstated.
She was not reinstated after the process and the department denied it had agreed to.
On January 30 this year, the director general of the department agreed to reinstate Mrs M.
She would also 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. I have already indicated that it is not about doing it right the first time, but it is about correcting human imperfections,” she said.
The Right2Know campaign welcomed the whistleblower's reinstatement.
“The reversal of her unfair dismissal was a rare victory for whistleblowers in South Africa,” it said in a statement on Thursday night.
“The Public Protector has rightly described whistleblowers 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.
Where an unjust secrecy prevailed, there had to be full protection, support and solidarity for those who risked everything to speak out, it said. - Sapa