Government must do more to rekindle public trust in the whistle-blowing policy

The controversy surrounding the reward to the whistle-blower who instigated the process that led to the discovery of over N13 billion at the Osborne Towers, Ikoyi in Lagos, has not only opened the government to ridicule, it has raised several questions about the whole policy. It has also revealed that when it comes to keeping agreements, our government cannot be trusted to do the right thing at the right time.

According to Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) at a recent event titled “Tracking Noxious Fund,” a whistle-blower was entitled to between 2.5 per cent and five per cent, provided there was a voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds. Owasanoye, who was part of the team that drafted the law, argued that “if you blow the whistle and it is below N500m, you get four to five per cent because the higher the amount that is recovered, the lower the percentage that is given. This is the global best practice. If the recovery is between N500m and N1bn, you get three to four per cent. If it is N1bn and above, it is 2.5 per cent.”

Given such declaration by PACAC that has been pushing the policy, some of the pertinent questions that arise are: If the policy is this clear, why are there so many discordant tunes between and among the agencies of government, PACAC inclusive? Why is there a sharp dispute over the percentage to be paid to the Ikoyi whistle-blower? What is causing the delay in paying the person within one month as stipulated in the law?

More importantly, what led to the damaging insinuations in some quarters that the whistle–blower was insane and might not be able to manage the windfall? Equally troubling is the deluge of “whistle-blowers” now laying claim to the money: Was this not supposed to be a discreet operation? Why is paying the informant a media event? Is the EFCC not aware of the identity of the informant? With all the information in the media, is it not possible that one day, the informant will be named and exposed, with all the risks and dangers? Why is the whistle-blower subjected to all these ordeals? Besides, was the Ikoyi money really looted from the treasury and if yes, why is nobody on trial for such a misdeed and if no, who is responsible for a situation in which government is giving away such huge money?

Aimed at enhancing accountability and transparency in the management of public funds, the whistle-blower policy was introduced by the Buhari administration which is overly concerned about curbing corruption in public places. It was a policy greeted with enthusiasm by the people, many of whom are victims of the vicious cancer of corruption and which manifests in contract inflation, embezzlement of salaries and pensions, diversion of funds meant for infrastructure, and related issues.

At the last count, hundreds of billions of naira had reportedly been recovered through the policy, monies which the government has pledged to deploy in the renewal of infrastructure. But since nobody is certain about anything concerning this government that believes in substituting propaganda for substance, the public is getting increasingly cynical about what they are told on looted money. But beyond that, the insincerity in keeping to its words may be doing incalculable damage to the administration that is already weighed down by many negatives.

The federal government must therefore do more to rekindle public trust in a policy that is fast becoming another administrative tool that is subject to the whims and vagaries of the men of power.