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SHARE   |   Monday, 11 April 2016   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
GAGGED-Public servants face punishment for disclosing government secrets GAGGED-Public servants face punishment for disclosing government secrets

Government has moved swiftly hardly a month  after the arrest of public officer in the Office of the President  Abueng  Sebola on account of giving a government file to journalist Sonny Serite by coming up with a draconian savingram that will muzzle the public service employees. The circular savingram number 3 of 2016 - written by Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi – states that the divulging or use of information or documents received in an official capacity for private purpose is prohibited and could lead to criminal prosecution. This move comes when a Bill on Whistleblowing is about to be presented before Parliament to provide for the manner in which a person may, in the public interest, disclose information adverse to the public interest; to provide for the manner of reporting and investigation of disclosures of impropriety and the protection against victimisation of persons who make the closures; and to provide for related matters. The savingram states that accounting officers should ensure that every employee completes and signs the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) Form 3 and the forms must be submitted by the 15th of April.

As a clear sign of intimidation instruct the accounting officers to provide the list of the employees who have signed the form. The circular goes against part of the Whistleblowing Bill which calls for the disclosure of information to protect the environment; where a public officer or former public officer performs official functions with dishonesty or with partiality. Another part of the Whistleblowing Bill states that, “Where the conduct of the public officer, a former public officer or a public body amounts to misuse of information or material acquired in the cause of performance of public officer’s functions whether for the benefit of that person or public body or otherwise; the conduct of a person, whether or not a public officer amounts to maladministration, which is action or inaction of a serious nature contrary to the law, unreasonable, oppressive or discriminatory or based on improper motives. According to the declaration form, information can only be divulged with the authorisation by the Permanent Secretary to the President (PsP). The new savingram also reduces the powers of the Public Relations Officers as they are also to get permission from the PsP before they can grant any media house interviews.According to the declaration public service Act No.30 of 2008 any public officer who wilfully disobeys any written law by doing any act which it forbids or divulges information will be guilty of an offence and could lead to criminal prosecution.

This is in contrary to part of the Whistleblowing bill which explicitly states that whistle-blowers who have disclosed information shall not be subjected to victimisation by their employer or by fellow employees or by any other person and protects them from civil or criminal proceedings in respect of disclosure of impropriety. “A whistle-blower shall be considered as having been subjected to victimisation if: being an employee is dismissed or suspended from work; has his post being declared redundant; is denied promotion; is harassed or intimidated by the employer or fellow employee or is subjected to a discriminatory or other adverse measure, by the employer or fellow employee,” states the Bill. The regulations for public officers were first brought by the former Director of DPSM Festinah Bakwena in 2012 after the infamous 2011 industrial action but were later withdrawn. Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) sees malice in the savingram and says that it is irony that it happens immediately after the arrest of an officer in the Office of the President for disclosing information to a journalist. BOFEPUSU Secretary General Tobokani Rari said that they were surprised that the savingram comes from the Office of the President instead of the employer DPSM. “It raises eyebrows as why it has to be communicated by the PsP instead of the Director of DPSM who is directly involved with employees,” he said. He said that this is government’s tactic of killing the spirit of rooting out corruption within the civil service.