The criminal justice system should offer incentives that encourage witnesses and whistle-blowers to give information or evidence, without fear of reprisals.
To prevent abuse, the legislation on whistleblowing should also criminalise unjustifiable accusations against innocent people. This is according to Vice-President Dr Nickey Iyambo, who addressed stakeholders in the justice system during a consultative workshop on witness protection and whistle-blower protection legislation that ended in Swakopmund on Friday.
Namibia is a signatory to a number of international legal instruments dealing with crime, in particular the UN Convention Against Corruption, which requires State parties to pass laws to protect witnesses and persons, who provide information about corrupt activities.
Currently, there is no legislation in Namibia for the protection of the identity of persons who supply information about the commission of crime, or other irregularities to the police, the anti-corruption agency, employers, or the Ombudsman to name a few.
Iyambo said not only would such incentives encourage whistle-blowers to report crimes, but would also preserve the credibility of the justice system in the eyes of the public.
“I, therefore, urge you to ensure that the names of innocent citizens should not be tarnished on purely personal differences and that those who do so are sanctioned accordingly,” the vice-president said.
He further appealed to Namibians to guard against unjustified rumour-mongering and gossip, which are so common and are often based on resentment and jealousy.
“Sometimes, the media will make innuendos, slurs and hints on the apparent corruption of individuals, but without an iota of proof. Regrettably, in the process people’s names are dragged through the mud and their reputations destroyed publicly, without any evidence of wrongdoing, except for malice-filled chatter,” he said.
The vice-president said he observed many instances whereby officials of law enforcement agencies go to the airport or to a public institution to arrest a government official, accompanied by journalists – just for the case to fizzle out or the State to lose it due to lack of evidence and then being sued for character defamation.
“These kind of Hollywood movie-inspired practices have nothing in common with the genuine need to rid our country of corruption and have actually done more harm to our collective anti-corruption objective,” the vice president argued.
He appealed to stakeholders in the justice system, the media and Namibians at large to work in good faith, guided by common sense, rational policies, laws and conventions to do work hard and not to pay attention to false perceptions, and gossip.
“In Namibia, every citizen according to the Namibian Constitution is innocent before the law, unless so proven by a competent court. So, let’s keep things that way and not encroach on the rights of innocent citizens through whatever stealthy manner,” he said.