Whistle-blower finally gets justice

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jeff radebe

Independent Newspapers.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe. Photo: Candice Chaplin.

Johannesburg - Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe and his director-general Nonkululeko Sindane must ensure a letter of apology is sent to a whistle-blower, who was harassed and ultimately dismissed from her job after lifting the lid on misappropriation of funds.

This is one of the recommendations in the public protector’s report titled “They Called it Justice” released this week. Others include the reinstatement by March 1, 2013 of the complainant closer to home in either Bhisho or East London, and the back-payment of her salary – plus interest – since her dismissal in 2010.

The Right2Know campaign has welcomed this as “a rare victory for whistle-blowers”. Campaign national co-ordinator Murray Hunter said while it was “an encouraging signal”, whistle-blowers continued to face tough decisions. “We have a really grim picture of whistle-blowers… People who do speak out take an enormous risk,” he added. “We need to see much more committed action by the government and a better track-record from business in how they treat corporate whistle-blowers.”

The public protector’s report outlines a more than eight-year-old saga after the complainant soon after her appointment in April 2004 – and until March 2006 – blew the whistle on the misappropriation of funds at the KwaZulu-Natal High Court Master’s Office.

The Guardian Fund is managed by the state on behalf of vulnerable people, but the money was paid to non-existent beneficiaries or to tracing agents, after claims that the beneficiaries were untraceable, and giving real beneficiaries empty envelopes without cheques.

The public protector was approached in September 2010, after the complainant was dismissed while consulting doctors over work-related stress and incapacity. It emerged the Justice Department had “terminated her salary long before the date of her dismissal”, meaning medical aid benefits were terminated.

A public protector-brokered agreement for her reinstatement in April 2011, with a repayment of her salary, was not implemented.

Another complaint was lodged in which the complainant argued she suffered “considerable prejudice”, declining health, lost her house, her children were traumatised and she “was subjected to further harassment in the form of various contradictory correspondence which she received from different officials”. It is understood the department insisted she had “absconded”.

After a meeting between the public protector, Radebe and investigators in September 2012, Sindane, in what was described as an emotional letter argued the complainant had “absconded” and as the maladministration she revealed was already in the public domain and subject to an internal audit – with a pending Special Investigating Unit probe – there was no whistle-blowing.

However, the public protector ruled the complainant did make a protected disclosure and should benefit from the protection under the Protected Disclosures Act, commonly known as the whistle-blower Act.

The public protector found the Justice Department had contravened various sections of that Act, as well as the Labour Relations Act and Public Service Act, including provisions on incapacity leave.

Radebe and Sindane have 30 days to effect these recommendations related to the complainant, and must also inform the public protector on disciplinary action taken against employees who contravened the Public Service Act and what steps are taken with regard to the allegations of maladministration and corruption at the Master’s Offices at high courts across the country.

The Right2Know campaign has highlighted the cases of other whistle-blowers:

* Roberta Nation is fighting dismissal from the State Security Agency for reporting more than a year ago on alleged fraud in its medical scheme.

* Limpopo education official Solly Tshitangano was dismissed for highlighting malfeasance in last year’s Limpopo textbook delivery failure.

* Former Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohala and provincial official Samuel Mpatlanyane were killed in 2009 after seeking to expose collusion in the building of the Mbombela stadium.

It also cited media reports of the abduction and assault of Independent Communications Authority of South Africa official Joseph Lebooa, who is investigating a private company reportedly owing fees to the regulator.

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