(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has said that Rowley said that once whistleblower legislation is operationalised, the Government would examine a reward system to encourage whistleblowers.
Dr Rowley was speaking in Parliament during debate on the Whistleblower Bill yesterday.
He noted that in the United States there is a reward system in which, if the whistleblower identifies loss to the public that can be recovered, then the whistleblower gets a portion of what is recovered.
He said it ranges in the US, between 5-15 per cent.
He pointed to the $921 million from the highway project and noted that if a whistleblower and the reward was 10 per cent, the person involved would have stood to receive $92 million.
He said the reward aspect is the most powerful part of the programme but said that the Government deliberately did not include it in the legislation just yet.
“I’m giving the commitment that once we establish the whistleblower platform and the operationalisation of it and we see how it is working and the acceptance in society, we could come back to the Hous and work out a rewards arrangement…encourage people,” he said.
He warned, however, that people found to be telling lies while passing them off as whistleblowing, will face stiff penalties.
The whistleblower law proposed by Government would apply if someone knows something that happened in the distant past – before the law is approved – if the matter is to the detriment of the state and citizens.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley indicated this in Parliament yesterday while piloting the Whistleblower Bill.
It’s designed to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sector and to protect persons making those disclosures from detrimental action.
It requires a three-fifths special majority vote for passage.
Speaking for 90 minutes, Dr Rowley said the Attorney General and his staff did an excellent job crafting the bill.
The bill will exempt whistleblowers who are doing protected disclosures, from being subject to civil/criminal/disciplinary proceedings. He said this would encourage people to “say something if they know something” and they’d be protected under law.
But all information must be based on good faith, be true and have substance. Those suffering detrimental action by whistleblower disclosure can seek court injunction including for compensation.
The bill proposes large fines and jail for those violating clauses.
Stating that instances of corruption are widespread and it was an unfortunate fact there was an overwhelming level of corruption, Rowley he said he was referring to every level so no individual /group ought to take it personally.
He said, however, not every person is engaged in corruption. But if nothing was done about corruption it will be reproduced by those viewing the wrongdoing.
“I’m not saying this law will put an end to corruption but it will afford the society an opportunity to respond in some significant way to discourage the instances…”
Rowley said T&T is a society where the concept of “Maco” probably originated and being first to bring the news as is seen on social media. Citing people in authority quoting from secret Integrity Commission documents, he said that destroys public confidence in systems and institutions, creating cynicism that nothing’s sacred.
“We need to lift ourselves above that,” he said.
He also said, “This Government isn’t prepared to protect anybody in this country if you want to fill your tub with dirty water or taxpayers’ water – every tub sit on its own bottom!”
He said people who dug dirt or struggled hard to live may never see $1 million but some others in white shirts and nice shoes living the best “are in fact the cancer of the society.”
Rowley said some might nitpick the issue and say leave corruption alone, but “I’m saying no!”
Calling for the UNC to put political differences aside and put T&T first he added, “If any country was crying out for law to protect itself from the minority of corrupt people, it is T&T. If ever a time MPs are called on to do their jobs, today is that day.”
Crime driven by corruption – PM
The violent crime T&T has as daily news is also a result of illegal money and corruption, Prime Minister Keith Rowley added.
“As the Attorney General says, follow the money and you’ll find the money illegally and that’s driving the violent crime. The time has come to stop expecting the Angel Gabriel will come and stop it.”
He added white-collar crime is just as bad and that can drive murders. Rowley related the death threat on his life when he was Opposition leader and that during the 2015 general elections he had to have bulletproof vehicles and heavy security.
He said those who were asked to do the “wuk” found that difficult to swallow and talk.
The bill carries a $15,000 fine plus two year’s jail for offences summarily and $50,000 fine and 10 year’s jail for indictably.
Corruption by Licensing officer
Demonstrating the need for the law, Rowley cited the following instances:
• In the 1990s a public servant who came to him was upset at being promoted away from his current location. He was later found to have been in position to influence certain licenses and alleged to have been engaged in massive corruption with licences at the lowest level of the public service.
• Rowley signed a document before leaving on business. But Finance and the OPM Minister later found $100m more was added to it without Rowley knowing. It was done at high public service levels and increased the amount on a contentious debt to a foreign company.
• A foreigner alerted him to action of a Port Authority manager regarding a ferry and “something underhand”. Other officers who were also dismissed are in/en route to the courts, now.
• Aspects protecting taxpayers’ interest in the largest contract ever done in T&T was exposed by a public servant as being removed before the 2015 elections. The $921m the court ruled Government must get following the issue, is still the subject of litigation by the contractor.
• Government had to pursue $200m regarding purchase of the Damen vessels.
• A man living in a foreign country being pursued or should be pursued by law enforcement regarding his explanation of how money came into his control while working in the OPM. He said he was working for the then ruling party for elections and contractors paid him that money.
• Payment of $100m more than the valuation of a property purchased where probe showed a public officer got a cheque from the seller.
• Demonetisation of cotton $100 notes caused by evidence that some people improperly enriched themselves in cash from state coffers.
Rowley said he wasn’t surprised UNC MPs were complaining about the instances he referred to.
• Threats, promises or intimidation of whistleblowers will be offences.
• Officers in whistleblowing matters who breach confidentiality risk a $600,000 fine and two years’ imprisonment.
• Employers must publish internal procedures to deal with disclosures.
• A whistleblower reporting official will be protected from revealing the ID of a whistleblower without their consent in writing.
• Obstruction of whistleblower personnel in their duties will be prohibited.
• Concealing documents carries a $30,000 fine plus five year’s imprisonment.
• If information in anonymous disclosure is found to be defamatory/libellous it will be kept as record in the event the issue becomes known and subject to criminal proceedings.
• Destroying/falsifying documents concerning disclosure will be an offence.