Introduction Whistleblowing programme Comment

Introduction

On December 21 2016 the Federal Ministry of Finance released details of its new whistleblowing programme, through which it aims to obtain information deemed to be in the public interest concerning:

  • the violation of financial regulations;
  • the mismanagement of public funds and assets;
  • financial malpractice and fraud; and
  • theft.

Whistleblowing programme

Under the programme, persons can provide relevant information by:

  • submitting an anonymous report to what the government has described as a 'secure online portal';
  • providing a written report to a special unit of the ministry; or
  • calling a specified phone number.

The type of information sought through the programme includes that pertaining to:

  • the violation of financial regulations;
  • the mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets;
  • theft;
  • the solicitation and collection of bribes;
  • procurement fraud; and
  • other infractions.

If an informant has evidence to support his or her disclosure, it must be submitted either via the portal or in writing to the special unit of the ministry. Identified whistleblowers are promised protection against any adverse treatment resulting from the disclosure as they can make a complaint to an independent panel of inquiry. Where the panel concludes that there are reasonable grounds for the complaint, the party against which the complaint has been made has the burden of establishing that the alleged actions were not undertaken in retaliation for the disclosure. Where a prima facie case of adverse treatment has been established, "a further investigation may be instituted and disciplinary action taken against the perpetrator in accordance with the public service rules/other extant rules and a restitution shall be made to the Whisleblower for any loss suffered".

Identified whistleblowers responsible for providing information that directly leads to "the voluntary return [of public funds or assets] may be entitled to anywhere between 2.5%-5% of [the] amount recovered". To qualify to receive this reward, the whistleblower must have provided information that the government did "not already have and could not [have otherwise obtained] from any publicly available source", and the actual recovery must be "on account of the information provided by the Whistleblower".

The programme promises that a preliminary analysis to confirm whether there is a violation will be conducted within 10 days of receipt of a report, but also states that if an investigation is commenced, "the nature and complexity of the matters under investigation will determine the time frame".

In its announcement, the government stated that the initiative aims and is expected to:

  • increase exposure of financial or related crimes;
  • support the fight against financial crime and corruption;
  • improve public confidence in public entities;
  • enhance transparency and accountability regarding the management of public funds;
  • improve Nigeria's open government ranking and ease of doing business indicators; and
  • recover public funds that can be deployed to finance Nigeria's infrastructure deficit.

Comment

Although it is still early days, the likelihood of the initiative achieving any of its objectives is low. The programme is an administrative initiative with no legal backing. Although the Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Safeguarded Disclosure (Whistleblowers, Special Provisions, Etc) Bill were introduced in the National Assembly in 2008 and 2009 respectively, Nigeria has no comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation in place. The language of the policy, as contained in the programme, gives the government far too much scope to justify failures to investigate reports or reward whistleblowers.

Further, the public continue to have a justifiable reason to be sceptical of the programme, given that – according to a press report – the federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently dismissed a Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa director for reporting fraud within the directorate amounting to N70.6 million. Given that the last Central Bank of Nigeria governor was dismissed for alleging that $20 billion had disappeared from the national treasury (albeit under a different regime), most Nigerians will have little confidence that they would fare any better were they to report the types of infringement targeted by the new programme.

For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email (boogundipe@sooblaw.com). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.

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