Justice minister Yvonne Dausab said setting up a witness protection unit office will require N$160 million per year when it becomes operationalised.
Dausab said this last week while providing a ministerial response to questions raised by Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) parliamentarian Jennifer Van den Heever regarding the state of the whistleblower and witness protection unit.
In November last year, The Namibian reported that PDM president McHenry Venaani said the government keeps stalling operationalising the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was passed five years ago.
Speaking in parliament then, Venaani said the establishment and operationalisation of a whistleblower protection office is essential in fighting corruption.
“It is inexcusable that the government sings the old song of insufficient funds to operationalise this office, despite the law being passed over five years ago. The only possible answer is that the government wants to aid and abet corruption, hence its stalling,” Venaani said.
The parliament promulgated the Whistleblowers Protection Act 10 of 2017 in October 2017, but it is gathering dust due to a lack of funds.
The law calls for the setting up of a whistleblower’s protection office. The office is to investigate the disclosure of improper conduct, and complaints of retaliation against people disclosing information of improper conduct and corruption.
The law also imposes a fine of N$75 000 or a jail term not exceeding 15 years, or both, on anyone convicted of retaliation. Dausab in parliament last week said the current overall estimated costs stand at N$830 000 annually for the commissioner, N$767 000 for the chief investigator and going forward, we will need an additional N$6 million annually to complete the staff complement over the next couple of years.
She said the entire budget appropriated to the ministry for the current financial year stands at just under N$600 million.
“The witness protection unit will require approximately N$160 million per annum. That amounts to over a quarter of the ministry’s budget just for the witness protection unit alone,” Dausab said.
INADEQUATE BUDGET ALLOCATION
The whistleblower and witness protection legislative frameworks were announced in 2017, but since then they have not been operationalised.
The Ministry of Justice was allocated a budget of N$50 million for the current financial year to operationalise the witness protection unit and the whistleblower protection office.
“The major factor that has caused the delay for operationalising the two laws and the consequent setting up of the whistleblower protection office is primarily related to the lack of adequate budget allocation,” the minister said.
Dausab said despite that, the aspect of protecting whistleblowers is not absent.
“We acknowledge the delay, but having done some costing and benchmarking with South Africa and the USA, setting up such an important office requires diligence and time to ensure it is done right the first time,” she said.
The minister said the nature and the work of such an office is sensitive and once the law is operationalised and the office is set up, it must instil public trust.
“People that blow the whistle and, therefore, need protection must feel safe to do so. They must feel that they have been heard and that the role they played has made a difference,” Dausab added.
According to Dausab, the office requires infrastructure, human resource capacity and an individual of high calibre who inspires trust in the office, the public and potential whistleblowers to head the office.
“We have, accordingly, committed to start with the financial resources that have been made available this year,” she said.
Dausab also announced that the acting director, John Shimaneni, who serves as the ministry deputy executive director, has been appointed to facilitate the setting up and establishment of the witness protection unit.
“The witness protection legislation under section 5(1) makes provision for the appointment of an acting director to set up the office,” she said.
Dausab added that the office will be the first of its kind in Namibia and will require training, that is learning-by-doing and any format, to ensure that it effectively delivers on its mandate.
“The process of finalising the job descriptions for the staff of the protection unit is nearing completion. The ministry has formally engaged government stakeholders with respect to the office accommodation,” Dausab said.
She added that there is progress being made and a lot of behind the scenes activities to ensure the ministry operationalises the law and establishes the unit this financial year.
“We plan to ensure that by the end of the current financial year, the law is operationalised, the key staff have been appointed and trained, the office accommodation has been procured and the process of taking over of witnesses protection services will commence,” the minister said.