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New Namibia law marks first step toward whistleblower protection

Namibia's new whistleblower protection law aims to encourage whistleblowers to speak up about wrongdoing and corruption, but the law has its flaws.

In an effort to combat corruption, Namibia President Hage Geingob signed the Whistleblower Protection Act into law last week.

The multifaceted law is an attempt to reduce the corruption that has plagued the southern African country. The Namibia Whistleblower Protection Act:

  • Establishes a Whistleblower Office, which will be responsible for investigating disclosures made by whistleblowers as well as complaint of retaliation.
  • Creates a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee, which brings together individuals from different areas of the government and tasks them with the advising the Prime Minister on policy relating to whistleblowers.
  • Lays out specific protections for whistleblowers.
  • Outlaws employment contracts with language that bans or discourage employees from speaking out.

But the law has numerous loopholes that can disqualify a whistleblower from protection, including if the disclosure “principally involves questioning the merits of government policy, including the policy of a public body.” These exceptions could be used to deny legal protections for many potential whistleblowers, which weakens the law.

Namibia’s Whistleblower Protection Act also does not provide for any whistleblower rewards. As demonstrated by the monumental success of US whistleblower reward programs, such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower program, whistleblower rewards provide extra incentive and security to those in difficult positions who want to stop corporate fraud or bribery of government officials.

The SEC has received 31 tips from Africa, including from Namibia’s neighbors Botswana and Zambia, in the past three years. In cases where the SEC has jurisdiction, such as bribery of government officials by companies that are listed on US stock exchanges, it will protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers and pay them rewards if penalties are paid, no matter where the whistleblowers live or their nationality.

In Nigeria, a new whistleblower rewards program already has begun to show positive signs since its creation in December 2016. The Nigerian government said that as of July, more than 5,000 reports have been made, including 365 actionable tips, leading to at least $1 million in rewards paid out to 20 whistleblowers. The early success of this program shows that whistleblower rewards can be effective in encouraging whistleblowers to come forward.

But despite its shortcomings, the passage of the Namibia Whistleblower Protection Act marks an important move towards accountability in the nation.

“Ethics provides a guide as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the conduct of business,” said Namibia Justice Minister Albert Kawana about the bill in February. “That what is accepted as unethical has consequences. Each and every patriotic citizen is called upon to report unethical conduct of officials in both public and private sectors.”

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