State whistle-blowers promised greater, speedier protection



Published May 26, 2024


The government has promised improved and speedy access to the witness protection of public servants testifying in criminal trials and disciplinary cases involving its employees.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has introduced new measures, which came into effect on April 1, to allow state employees to obtain witness protection.

Public Service and Administration Minister Noxolo Kiviet approved the measures, according to DPSA Director-General Yoliswa Makhasi.

“The guide aims to create awareness around witness protection, and provides a clear process for public service employees to request to be speedily entered into the witness protection programme.

“It addresses security concerns of public service employees witnessing criminal conduct by adopting a coordinated approach within the public service. The coordination of data will also assist with the drafting and reviewing of strategies on whistle-blower protection,” Makhasi said in a circular dated April 4, this year.

She said it was required departments to implement the system and process outlined in the guide approved by Kiviet to support employees in need of witness protection to speedily access it.

“Departments are required to appoint a nodal person (nodal point or first responders) to assist employees who require witness protection and to create awareness on witness protection,” she explained.

Makhasi added that departments were also required to support employees with information needed to apply for protection when testifying in a disciplinary hearing and to capacitate first responders who must assist employees who make reports.

The DPSA guide only applies to witnesses and not whistle-blowers and also states that a whistle-blower becomes a witness the moment that the information he/she shares with people or institutions he/she believes will be able to act, relates to him/her witnessing a crime and requires of him/her to testify in court or at a disciplinary hearing with threats being made to his/her person or that of loved ones, she said.

In February last year, during his State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the intention of the DPSA and the Department of Justice’s office for witness protection to provide speedy access for public servants to obtain witness protection.

According to the DPSA, although any person can contact the office for witness protection directly to be admitted to the witness protection programme, the findings of the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by outgoing Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, as well as the outcry for assistance and protection from government employees themselves, necessitated the adoption of a coordinated approach within the public service to assist public servants who need witness protection.

The DPSA’s public administration ethics, integrity and disciplinary technical assistance unit will provide implementation support to departments in the form of workshops for those employees who are responsible for the implementation of Makhasi’s directive.

South Africa subscribes to the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is under obligation to encourage reporting (whistle-blowing) and recognises that whistle-blower protection frameworks need to be upheld and enforced to ensure that they provide real and effective protection.

Government departments also have a responsibility to assist employees with the information needed to apply for protection when testifying in a disciplinary hearing and to capacitate first responders who must assist employees who make reports.

Risk and security officials will be restricted to providing immediate short-term protection until the employee is admitted to the witness protection programme but will have no role to play in the active protection of an employee once the employee is entered into the witness protection programme.

The circular also stated that risk and/or security management must lead the process to determine departmental risks as part of the department’s system of risk management, especially around witness protection.

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