Corruption in SA: Would paying whistleblowers help?

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Three ways to support whistleblowers are financial support, compensation and money rewards.

Whistleblowing is an important tool in fighting corruption. In South Africa, the commission of inquiry into state capture recommended that the government should provide financial rewards for whistleblowers who report corruption.

In my view, whistleblowers should be entitled to financial support – which may or may not include rewards as well. But rewarding whistleblowers has potential costs as well as benefits. It should not be seen as the silver bullet that will stop corruption. Lawmakers need to be aware of possible weaknesses of money reward systems, so they can build in safeguards when developing legislation.Financial support means covering the reasonable expenses a person incurs when reporting corruption.

Globally, only about 22 countries use money incentives for whistleblowing. One possible reason there are so few could be a lack of clear evidence as to whether reward systems contribute much to fighting corruption.In South Africa, individuals can institute private prosecutions, but are entitled to recover only their expenses involved in the prosecution if they are successful. They don’t receive a reward.

The City of Cape Town recently announced that it would award the Mayor’s Medal to Athol Williams, a state capture whistleblower, for his dedication and sacrifice to South Africa.The first is that money incentives lead to an increase in the number of whistleblowing reports. However, some studies emphasise that there’s no guarantee the number of successful prosecutions will increase too.

The dangers One danger is that money rewards could lead to an increase in unreliable reports. That would increase the workload of the government and use state resources fruitlessly. A possible counter measure could be to introduce stiff penalties for frivolous and malicious reports.


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