Organised by Transparency International Kenya, over 70 men and women attended a half day public discussion on improving whistle-blower laws and protection mechanisms. In response to four questions, 70 people indicated they have a persistent complaint about corruption, 40 have gossiped about a colleague, 20 have reported a colleague to the relevant authority and only person has ever secured the successful prosecution of someone who has abused their office. The rapid survey reflects the extent of the problem facing Kenya. Too few of us are actively building a culture that underpins new progressive laws and policies.
In the context of gross impunity and grand corruption, whistle-blowing is the highest expression of active citizenship. It is the boldest demonstration of the spirit of Article 1 that vests all power in the sovereignty of people.
While laws and policies and mechanisms are critical and TI-Kenya have some critical recommendations in this regard, the greatest challenge lies in decisively shifting the behaviour of you and me.
The first fundamental step has to be to care enough about even the issues that indirectly affect us. Bribery, substandard public services, hate speech, domestic violence next door, abuse of public resources, exclusion of those in need. The second is to give up the language of being a tell-tale, a snitch, betrayer familiar since childhood. Are we loyal to our relatives, colleagues and ethnic group at the expense of being loyal to a core set of values and behaviour that works.
Whistle-blowing is not personal, it is not an attack on the person being reported on, it is a commitment to integrity, rule of law and a culture that works for all. We can all name ten corrupt public and state officers, but it is more difficult to name ten whistle-blowers? We have to find ways of honoring them.
Much of the thinking around whistleblowing surrounds making disclosure easier and safer. This is great. We also need to create a proactive push around that encourages (to enable courage) citizens within public service and the public. Proactive policies and mechanisms that incentivise this. How do we honour head-teachers that block school land-grabs, users that demonstrate that basic service provision sabotage is designed for private profit, NGOs that press for the PBO Act, journalists that expose high and low abuse of office, state officials that agree to be investigated by independent bodies?
We need to think more about the informal spaces. The greatest impact of corruption is felt among the poor, marginalised and the “mahustlers” who suffer continually from the lack of quality public services, protection of their property and assets and autocratic harassment. They suffer the invisible injustices.
While legal reform is a pre-condition, the promotion of whistle-blowing as a national culture is the surest way of eliminating corruption. How could we encourage our children, families, friends and colleagues to take action?
For some excellent resources on whistle-blowing, see three policy briefs on building comprehensive laws, confidential and effective systems for whistle-blower protection www.tikenya.org