The federal government has received 365 actionable tips from members of the public since the Whistleblower Policy was launched in December 2016, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, disclosed Tuesday.
She also disclosed that a full-fledged Whistleblower Unit with full operation within the Ministry of Finance had been set up, adding that government intentionally integrated the team into the ministry to provide comfort to those with information by ensuring that the environment is not intimidating.
The minister, who spoke in Abuja at a seminar organised by the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) with the theme, “The Whistleblower Policy and Its Implication for Public Servants,” also disclosed that investigative agencies were billed to embark on study tour of Australia due to that country’s pedigree in whistleblowing.
According to her, much of the success of the policy had relied on the decision of the whistleblower to do the right thing, adding that of the 365 actionable tips received, over half of them came from public servants touching on issues such as contract inflation, ghost workers, illegal recruitments, misappropriation of funds, illegal sale of government assets, diversion of revenues, and violation of Treasury Single Account (TSA) regulations, among others.
Adeosun disclosed that in reviewing the information received, the government noticed that certain types of tips were recurring.
“For example, 39 per cent (144) of the actionable tips relate to misappropriation and diversion of funds/revenue, 16 percent (60) relate to ghost workers, illegal recruitments and embezzlement of funds meant for personnel emolument, 15 per cent (56) relate to violation of TSA regulation, 13 percent (49) relate to contract inflation/violation of the Procurement Act and failure to carry out projects for which funds have been released, and 9 per cent (34) relate to non-remittance of pension & NHIS deductions.
“Others include concealed bailout funds and embezzlement of funds from donor agencies,” the minister added.
Adeosun noted that overall, the volume of tips received had been greater and of higher quality than expected when the programme was first adopted.
“We continue to receive information everyday with total communication reaching above 5,000 in July through our various reporting channels,” she said.
However, she pointed out that there was still a long way to go, stressing that “part of our work is to analyse trends and take corrective actions”.
“For example, many of the salary, tax and pensions under remittance cases shared a common thread. Several cases where institutions were found to have insufficient funds to meet their obligations often had illegal recruitments, which bloated the wage bill and agencies responded by part paying or short paying salaries, whilst applying to the federal government for salary shortfall payments.
“We are revisiting our procedures for approval of recruitment, which will improve our budgeting and control. Equally, in many cases where revenue has been diverted to accounts outside the TSA, we have reviewed our reconciliation and receipting processes.
“So the information being provided is useful in driving process improvements,” she stated.
She urged civil servants with information on possible misconduct or violations to come forward.
She said: “If as a civil servant, you have information about a possible misconduct or violation that has occurred, is ongoing, or is about to occur, we implore you to come forward and report it.
“You can submit your information anonymously and confidentially through the online portal, by email or by phone, and if you choose to disclose your identity, I assure you that it will be fully protected.
“All information you provide will be reviewed, analysed and referred to be treated either administratively or criminally, through the investigative agencies.
“If for any reason after you have made a disclosure, you feel that you are being treated badly because of your report, you can file a formal complaint through the same confidential channels and the matter will be dealt immediately with the seriousness it deserves.
“Also, where you have suffered harassment, intimidation or victimisation for sharing your concerns, the whistleblower policy makes provision for restitution for any loss suffered.
“The risk of corruption is significantly heightened where the reporting of wrongdoing is not supported or where those who report wrongdoing may be subject to retaliation such as intimidation, harassment, transfer, dismissal or violence by their fellow colleagues or superiors.
“The protection of public sector whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting in good faith is therefore integral to our effort to combat corruption, safeguard integrity, and enhance accountability.
“These are not just words, as you must have heard, the Senate recently passed the Whistleblower Protection Bill which gives a whistleblower, protection under the laws of Nigeria.
“This is a great step in the right direction in our fight against corruption and I must thank the legislature for supporting the executive.
“Our whistleblower policy is consistent with many other countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States which have passed comprehensive and dedicated legislations to protect whistleblowers and particularly, public sector whistleblowers.
“In line with ensuring that we continue to build the right capacity and follow best practice, the Whistleblower Unit consisting of representatives from the various investigative agencies, is expected to go on a study tour to Australia to understand how they have been able to successfully implement the policy.
“We will continue to evolve and improve on the programme based on our experiences and learning from other jurisdictions.”
Adeosun noted that the reward scheme under the policy has also served as an incentive for disclosures, as a whistleblower is entitled to between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent of the amount recovered, if the information provided is original and directly leads to the recovery of stolen or concealed funds or assets.
“Even in the payment process, we have built in protection to ensure that whistleblowers identities remain confidential and that bank and other details cannot be used to trace information providers,” she said.
In his remarks, the Director-General of BPSR, Dr. Joe Abah, said that the agency organised the seminar to provide the needed platform to educate public servants on what the policy is about and the roles public servants were expected to play to ensure its successful implementation.
He noted that the Whistleblower Policy was in accordance with the tenets of reforming the public service and urged public servants to expose corruption where it exists.