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Protect the messenger

All governments, including democracies, are prone to wrong doings at collective and individual levels. The reason is that they are run by humans who can err for collective or individual benefits. An example that readily comes to mind is that of the Watergate scandal that ultimately took its toll obliging President Richard Nixon to resign. But there were no whistle-blower protection laws back then. For three decades, the whistle-blower was known by the pseudonym of Deep Throat. It was only in 2005 that we came to know that his actual name was Mark Felt.

Whistle-blowers usually become popular figures in western democracies. The scandal involving President Bill Clinton and interesting information given by the Wiki Leaks were well received by the public. This showed the public urge to know what their leaders were doing. The fact that President Clinton was ultimately indicted only for perjury pointed to the maturity of the US people and the state institutions. Since corruption has now been recognised as an international issue, the UN has passed a special convention to curb it. This convention asks all member states to enact laws for protection of whistle-blowers.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been talking of whistle-blower protection laws at the federal level for quite a while now. However, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) government, led by Imran Khan’s PTI, has stolen the lead by enacting such a law. It is called the KP Whistle-blower Protection and Vigilance Commission Act 2016. It envisages appointing three commissioners to look into complaints of corruption in government departments of the province. The whistle-blower will not only get legal protection but will also get 30 per cent of the recovered money. It says that all government servants are duty bound to co-operate with the commission. Those trying to obstruct its proceedings or wilfully hiding information will be fined. The Act also prescribes fine for those making wrong allegations against a government.

Imran Khan takes pride in calling the KP government merit oriented and transparent. He also claims that the provincial police have been insulated from all political interference. That has given the police officers space for taking decisions on merit, without fear. Khan’s PTI claims that KP province is well governed and this is testified by various polls as well. It is too early to say anything about the efficacy of the new legislation to protect whistle-blowers, but it is bound to have a healthy effect on governance and delivery of services to the citizens.

Supposing in a particular department, half of the officials are honest and the rest are corrupt, what would usually happen? The honest would know about their corrupt colleagues but would deliberately keep quiet for fear of the consequences. But the matter does not end there. Corruption can corrode any government department or even a society from within. Corrupt officials usually enjoy better life style and have the capacity to grease the palms of their seniors who have similar traits. This ensures that the corrupt could get better annual reports and lucrative postings. Thus corruption, even by a section of officials, can contaminate the whole system. The systems are compromised and the common citizens suffer.

But Imran Khan himself takes pride in his role as a persistent whistle-blower against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He did precisely that from the top of a container in 2014 for four months. After Panama Papers were made public in April Khan has resumed his allegations with full force. He has decided to hold a big rally in Raiwind near Lahore on September 30. The importance of this venue is that the suburb has Nawaz Sharif’s family residence. Most of the other leaders and political parties have refused to join Khan on this occasion as they have reservations about the venue. They argue that taking political protests to private residences is ethically wrong. Imran Khan has now selected a spot that is five kilometre short of PM residence. But political leaders still have their reservations.

All said and done, the KP government and parliament must be complimented for passing this Act which will encourage whistle-blowers to speak. This will go a long way in curbing corruption in government departments and ensuring good governance.