Whistleblower Protection Act to be reviewed

Minister of justice

Minister of justice Yvonne Dausab this week told the parliarment that her ministry would review or amend the Whistleblower Protection Act once the Witness Protection Unit has been operationalised.

Once the Witness Protection Unit is fully operating, the whistleblower Protection Act is due to be reviewed and possibly amended, to combine the act with witness protection legislation, which is very similar in object, scope and nature, Dausab said. The Witness Protection Unit has been allocated N$50 million to be fully operationalised. The act will be reviewed through consultation with parliament standing committees and other interested parties. “The intention is not to compromise the role each would play either individually or as a combined unit, but to avoid the duplication of roles and be frugal with the limited resources we have for this purpose,” the minister explained.

“The objective of the legislation is to safeguard the lives of whistleblowers who are witnesses in high-profile criminal cases and whose safety is at risk,” she said.

These funds will be used for personnel, training and cooperation with law-enforcement agencies.

“Our aim is to provide comprehensive protection to all witnesses, thereby encouraging greater participation of witnesses in the pursuit of justice,” Dausab said. Moreover, the Master of the High Court Directorate within the Ministry of Justice last year received 10 244 applications related to guardian funds, deceased’s estates and trusts.

Of this, 8 239 applications have been approved, while 628 have been rejected, and 1 316 are being processed. The purpose of the Guardian Fund is to protect the money of those lacking legal competence and capacity, undetermined and absent heirs and untraceable people.

“We are also putting measures in place to reduce the immense backlog experienced in that office,” Dausab said. The office has also relocated for ease of business after the city centre has proven to be less than ideal, she said.

The minister said the decentralisation of services is a challenge in her ministry. “The delays currently experienced are therefore regretted, but every effort is being made to improve the image of the master’s office,” she said.

Furthermore, the government’s legal aid services division was allocated N$35 million last year to deal with 9 110 applications received. “. . . of which 5 428 were granted, while some are pending,” the minister said.

Dausab said the ministry has ambitions to increase the income threshold to allow more people to qualify for legal aid.

“I am hopeful that with the budget allocated for legal aid, we will be able to do this as there is a need to focus more resources on cases with a socio-economic impact. “Our goal is to ensure that no individual is denied access to the courts and tribunals due to financial constraints or a lack of legal representation, thereby leaving no one behind in the pursuit of justice,” the minister said. In addition, the ministry will establish a directorate of community courts. The minister said during the last financial year the ministry used N$15 million to service community courts.

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) researcher Frederico Links yesterday commended the significant budgetary allocation to the Witness Protection Unit.

“It’s almost seven years since the law was passed, and it has been frustrating to see the years tick by, and every year to hear there was no money to give life to the witness protection mechanisms this country so sorely needs,” he said.

The ministry’s intention to review the Whistleblower Protection Act is interesting, he said.

“It is our hope that this process would include multistakeholder consultations around possible reforms,” Links said.

The researcher said the IPPR welcomes being part of any initiative to strengthen the whistleblower protection framework.

“If this is what needs to happen to see the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 implemented, then we welcome a speedy, but thorough review process,” he said.

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