JFJ wants protection for whistleblowers who provide critical info during Integrity Commission probes

RIGHTS group Jamaicans for Justice is calling for protection for whistleblowers who provide critical information during probes by the Integrity Commission, similar to that given to Crown witnesses in criminal matters.

The recommendation is one that the entity is hoping the joint select committee of parliament now reviewing the 2017 Integrity Commission Act will pitch to the upcoming joint select committee which will be revising the 2011 Protected Disclosures Act, also known as the Whistleblower Act, come November.

Under that Act, which was passed to facilitate and encourage responsible disclosure, by an employee, of improper conduct concerning the actions of the employer or another employee of that employer, an employee who makes a protected disclosure cannot be subject to legal action, whether civil or criminal, taken by the employer against him. Furthermore, an employee who is dismissed because of making a protected disclosure is deemed to be unjustifiably dismissed and is able to have a dispute heard before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal. The tribunal has the power to award compensation to the dismissed employee and/or award reinstatement of that employee.

But according to executive director of the JFJ Mickel Jackson, given Jamaica’s position on the corruption index, this is not sufficient.

“Within the Integrity Commission Act it spells out provisions for the whistleblowers. But it’s not just whistleblowers in the Integrity Commission Act that is the issue — it is general whistleblower protection in the country. Right now the only protection is against occupational detriment, not necessarily if harm comes to your family,” Jackson informed the Jamaica Observer.

“If you look at Jamaica’s historical ties to corruption it speaks to people being threatened, run out of communities, because historically some of the corruption is tied to gangs. So, risk to life, threat to life is a real possibility,” she pointed out.

JFJ’s Policy & Advocacy Specialist Jade Williams, in commenting further on the issue, said there are gaps in the safety net for whistleblowers unless the whistleblower rises to being a witness.

“Under the Integrity Commission Act a whistleblower’s privacy is protected, they are protected from prosecutorial retaliation, they are allowed paid travel expenses and protection from employment interference, but what we realise is that unless a whistleblower’s contribution is enough to take it to court— whether criminal or civil — this is the limit of the protection,” Williams pointed out.

“So, for example, if the information a whistleblower provides allows them to rise to [the level of a witness] then they will be under the witness protection programme where you are relocated, you are given financial support, your identity is completely covered, and you are guarded from interference. That’s what currently exists for a witness,” Williams noted.

“What we see as the gap is that you can be a whistleblower that provides pertinent evidence but does not make it to the level of being a witness where you give evidence in court. We may run the risk that if any of this information comes out that you participated in this investigation, that retaliation could take place,” the JFJ policy & advocacy specialist continued.

Against that background, JFJ says it is suggesting either an amendment to the Integrity Commission Act to increase the protection, or an amendment to the Justice Protection Act to include whistleblowers as a protected category of witnesses, “rather than where it is now where the definition of witnesses is very strict, referring to where the persons participate in a criminal or civil trial”.

“The Integrity Commission is not listed as an authority under the Justice Protection Act; if there is a corruption case that comes forward with possible witnesses and you have a criminal trial with a number of persons as witnesses, which would take precedence? So, our call also goes to having the commission listed as an authority under the Justice Protection Act and for a special fund to be established for them to be able to carry out their mandate,” Jackson said.

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