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Department of Justice looking for creative ways to close whistleblower protection loopholes, says Lamola


Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

  • The Department of Justice is looking at creative ways to close loopholes in the protection of whistleblowers while the relevant legislation is amended, said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
  • Lamola didn’t want to comment to SANEF on SA Tourism’s investigation into the whistleblower who leaked its controversial proposed deal with Tottenham Hotspur.
  • He did, however, say that the Protected Disclosures Act requires all state organs to protect whistleblowers.

Days after SA Tourism announced a “forensic investigation” into the leaking of its controversial proposed sponsorship deal with Tottenham Hotspur, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said he is looking at “creative” ways to close loopholes in the current protections for whistleblowers pending amendments to the relevant legislation.

Lamola addressed the annual general meeting of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) on Saturday morning. SA Tourism CEO Themba Khumalo was also due to address the meeting, but his appearance was cancelled due to a “family emergency”.

It was Khumalo who, last Thursday at a media briefing, said that SA Tourism would “isolate” the person who blew the whistle on the proposed sponsorship deal worth close to R1 billion over three years with the English football club Tottenham Hotspur.

On Wednesday, despite being hauled over the coals for the threat to the whistleblower and ordered to stop the deal by the Portfolio Committee on Tourism, SA Tourism announced that its board “has deliberated and resolved that a forensic investigation on the leaking of the SA Tourism Board discussions be conducted”.

Asked about these developments, Lamola didn’t want to express himself, as he did not have all the information.

He did, however, say that the Protected Disclosures Act requires all organs of state to protect whistleblowers.

READ | Tourism committee says Spurs deal ends ‘here, now’ as it dribbles Sisulu

In his address to the editors, Lamola said one of the issues that the media needs to reflect on is the protection of whistleblowers, “who contribute a lot in fighting corruption”.

He said last year, on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an issue brief on “Journalism and whistleblowing: an important tool to protect human rights, fight corruption, and strengthen democracy”.

He said:

The key recommendations of the issue brief were to promote and strengthen laws and practices that allow protecting the whistleblower’s identity if they choose. Also to strengthen regulations, laws, and practices which allow journalists to keep their sources confidential.

“Here in South Africa, we are working hard to tighten laws to protect whistleblowers, we are confident that the media will be important partners in this process.

“We need to work together to ensure that government and companies implicated by whistleblowers are held accountable. The media can also continue exposing those who victimise good citizens who blow the whistle on corrupt and unethical practices.”

It was also one of the Zondo Commission’s recommendations that the whistleblowers’ protections should be strengthened. Lamola said in the meantime, the department is looking at “creative way” to close the loopholes until the legislation is finalised.

Last Wednesday, Daily Maverick broke the news of SA Tourism’s proposed three-year deal with Spurs, as the club from North London is known, which would be worth £42.5 million (about R900 million). The deal would start at the beginning of the 2023-’24 season and end at the end of the 2026-’27 season. In exchange, SA Tourism would receive kit branding, interview backdrop branding, match-day advertising, partnership announcements, training camps in South Africa, and free access to tickets and stadium hospitality.

READ | Tottenham deal: SA Tourism in hunt to find whistleblower, Sisulu wants CFO gone

The following day, Khumalo held a media briefing where he said the whistleblower would be “isolated”.

The proposed deal has caused a public outcry.

On Friday, Tottenham released its financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2022. The club had a revenue of £444 million for the year, about R9.5 billion. This was a significant increase compared to the previous year’s £361.9 million. However, it did have a loss of £50 million, or R1 billion, for 2022. 

In the accompanying statement, club chairperson Daniel Levy, listed increased “sponsorship revenues” as one of the keys to keeping the club’s first team competitive.

“Stricter control of our cost base, increased commercial and sponsorship revenues and consistent European qualification are key to our ability to continue First Team investment and stay competitive,” he said.

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