Whistle-blowing and the power sector By Jide Ayobolu

OrijoReporter.com, Whistle-blowing and the power sector By Jide Ayobolu

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has called on the Federal Government to extend its ‘whistleblowing’ policy to the power sector to curb energy theft.

Fashola made the appeal in Enugu at the 16th Power sector monthly meeting, sponsored by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company. He said that available statistics revealed huge energy theft by Nigerians, adding that the problem had become a big challenge for not just the power distribution companies, but consumers as well.

Read also: Taxation and tax defaulters By Jide Ayobolu

According to him, if nothing is done, those who pay for energy consumption will continue to bear the overall cost. The minister said that statistics revealed that only six million households consumed energy in the country, adding “if this is correct, it means that some people steal energy in the country, while only a few pay. “The statistics cannot be correct and
it is therefore necessary to extend whistleblowing to the power sector in order to expose those stealing our energy,” he said.

Fashola said that when all households who used energy were not captured, the ones captured were bound to pay more tariffs. He called on Nigerians to be vigilant and report those who stole energy in their neighbourhood to law enforcement agencies. He said that government was not pleased with most power distribution companies, whom he said, were far from attaining the mandate given to them since the privatization of the sector.

The minister direct the distribution companies to call their staff to order, saying “they are giving their customers hard times through indiscriminate disconnections.

He said that efforts to improve power supply across the country were on course, adding that more megawatts of electricity would be added to the national grid before the end of the year. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the meeting ended with a communiqué urging members of the public to discharge their responsibilities of paying for energy costs.

The communiqué also appealed to state government to appoint energy advisers to ensure understanding of the power sector, before formulating policies.

It also reiterated that the Power Sector Recovery Programme was developed to address the importance of unity and common purpose in making significant impact in the sector. It stated that progress on incremental power was being made, and that the damaged transformers at Afam IV Power Station had been repaired and gas supply would start soon to provide additional 100mw of power.

It would be recalled that, the Federal Government recently announced a policy, which offers a five percent financial reward to any whistle blower whose information leads to recovery ‎of looted funds and other monies obtained through fraudulent means.

Tagged ‘Whistle Blowing Programme,’ it is aimed at encouraging anyone with information about a violation, misconduct or improper activity that impacts negatively on the Nigerian people and government to report it. Official reward for whistle blowers will strengthen the fight against corruption by encouraging more Nigerians to identify with government’s efforts in that regard. The country would have recovered substantial part of the looted funds if similar policy were adopted in effort to recover the Abacha loot running into billions of dollars.

Briefing State House correspondents after a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun said if a whistle blowing leads to a voluntary return of stolen or concealed public funds or assets, the blower may be entitled to between 2.5 per cent (minimum) and 5.0 per cent (maximum) of the total amount recovered. Adeosun who was joined at the briefing by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, explained that to qualify for the reward, the whistle blower must have provided the government with information it does not already have and could not otherwise obtain from any other source available to the government.

She further explained that the government had already created a secure online ‎portal where information could be submitted, as well as the facility to check the status of the report on the portal. Adeosun categorized the information that could be ‎reported to include cases bothering on mismanagement or misappropriation of public funds and assets such as properties and vehicles, financial malpractice or fraud, and collecting or soliciting bribe. Others are corruption, diversion of revenues, fraudulent and unapproved ‎payments, splitting of contracts, and procurement fraud including kickbacks and over invoicing, among others.

The policy, however, does not apply to personal matters concerning private contracts or agreements.

While assuring of absolute confidentiality on the use of the portal, ‎Mrs. Adeosun said that government employees, agencies, institutional stakeholders and members of the public were also at liberty to avail themselves of the facility.

“You can submit documentary evidence on the portal. You can also provide specific and fact-based information such as what occurred, amount involved, who was involved and dates of the occurrence on the portal. “Confidentiality will be maintained to the fullest extent within the limitations of the law. If you choose not to disclose your identity, there will be no record of who you are.

If you choose to disclose your identity, it will be fully protected. ”If you whistle-blow in public-spirit and in good faith, you will be protected. If you feel that you have been treated badly because of your report, you can file a formal complaint. If you have suffered harassment, intimidation or victimization for sharing your concerns, restitution will be made for any loss suffered.”

The Nigerian Institute of Management has expressed its support for the five per cent reward promised by the Federal Government to anyone who exposes fraud and other related crimes in the public and private sectors.

The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had, after the Federal Executive Council meeting recently, announced a resolution that the whistle-blowers would be rewarded with five per cent of the total amount recovered as a result of the tip-off. Speaking after its Annual General Meeting and end-of-year dinner in Calabar, Cross River State, the Chairman of NIM, Calabar chapter, Mr. Evong Evong, described the decision as a right initiative.

He said the plan would go a long way to help in the fight against corruption.

Evong added, “Anything that will help reduce, mitigate and eventually eradicate corruption at all levels is a welcome development as long as it is within the ambit of the law and doesn’t infringe on the rights of the people.“Our tenets include professionalism, integrity and transparency and we believe in prudent management of funds. So, if the Federal Government has made a policy to encourage more whistle-blowers, it would make a lot of people to sit up and a lot of people will also come forward since they know they have a lot to benefit from it.”

Evong expressed the hope that the ongoing recession would soon be a thing of the past, adding that a lot of professionals were already proffering solutions at various levels to assist the government.

He said, “It would take creativity and thinking outside the box. We have the human resources to help us out because Nigeria has a lot of resources that can compete anywhere in the world. So, the economic recession will soon be a thing of the past once we can block all loopholes and manage our funds prudently. “The institute has already keyed into the Federal Government’s change initiative, which, of course, is a paradigm shift.

It must not be seen as if it is a witch-hunt. “We must look at the bright side of the fight against corruption and this policy of rewarding whistle-blowers, as initiated by the Federal Ministry of Finance, is indeed a step forward in the right direction and a win-win for Nigeria.”

It is important to note that, simply put; whistle blowing is the reporting of misconduct of an employee or superior. Misconduct of course, can range from between minor issues, to complex, corporate-changing deeds of bad behavior / leadership. Prime examples of how important whistle blowing can be for an organization are the past scandals of Enron, WorldCom, and the Bernie Madoff scandal of 2008. Every organization desires honesty from and among its employees.

The presence of honesty allows for complete dedication to the organization’s mission and success.

By encouraging a whistle blowing culture, the organization promotes transparent structure and effective, clear communication. More importantly, whistle blowing can protect the organization’s clients. For example, if a hospital employs a number of negligent staff members, other, more ethically inclined, employees would need to bring such issues to the hospital’s attention, protecting the organization from possible lawsuits or severe mishaps resulting in a patient’s demise.

There has been a substantial increase in the recognition of the importance of whistleblowing as a means of reducing corruption and defusing dangerous situations by improving the disclosure of information about illegal, dangerous or unethical activities by government and private organizations. Whistleblowing can also be a means of improving the internal organizational culture of organizations in both the public and private sector to prevent or reveal mistakes and accidents and improve internal management and efficiency. Around the world, whistleblowers have been hailed as heroes for revealing corruption and fraud in organizations and for preventing potentially harmful mistakes from leading to disasters.

The disclosures range from revealing the theft of millions of money in the public and private businesses and other dangerous transactions that threaten businesses and help save wealth. However, many who bring these issues to light face severe repercussions for their actions.

They lose their jobs or are ostracized for their actions. Some are charged with crimes for violating laws or employment agreements. In extreme cases, they face physical danger. Countries around the world are now working to develop legal regimes to encourage these important disclosures and protect whistleblowers from retribution. One of such laws in Nigeria is the Freedom of Information Act.

Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State.

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