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PPLAAF: Protecting and empowering whistleblowers in Africa

Why We Invested in PPLAAF (the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa)

One crucial way corruption and wrongdoing come to light is through the disclosures of whistleblowers from within public and private entities.  Sadly, in many African countries blowing the whistle can mean risking one’s life and career, and many potential witnesses and sources of information don’t take action because the system does not afford them sufficient support and protection.

The recent State Capture scandal in South Africa is a prime example, wherein some crucial pieces of information that enabled journalists and law enforcement to understand what was happening were only available due to the disclosures of individuals from within state-owned enterprises, the government, and private companies run by the Guptas and others.  Despite South Africa’s relatively advanced whistleblower protection laws, those individuals still faced serious threats and persecution, all of them losing their jobs in some way, many suffering personal threats and violence, and more.  Two of the central figures remain to this day in exile with their families and have chosen not to disclose their identities for fear of reprisals.

Whistleblower protection legislation is only the first piece of the puzzle, but even in that regard the continent is performing woefully: only eight of 54 African countries have passed these laws, and even those are fairly weak.  More comprehensive protection and education is also needed for whistleblowers, such as how to securely transfer information without compromising themselves, how to obtain legal advice, and how to connect with the media to make their knowledge public.

At the same time, it is clear that the fight against corruption is as important as ever, as inequality continues to rise, and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the shameless theft of public resources that denies citizens access to basic services and hampers development.  Africa needs citizen watchdogs to create the public demand necessary for real progress against corruption.

To make whistleblowers successful in curbing corruption and other activities contrary to the public interest, they need access to a community of experts to help them navigate facing the powerful forces they’re fighting.  The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) provides this community.  Comprised of journalists, lawyers, and activists, PPLAAF supports people wishing to disclose compromising information in particularly difficult and dangerous contexts by helping them publish what they know, use it for accountability, and protect themselves from reprisals and threats.  PPLAAF offers technical, legal, and media assistance to whistleblowers in Africa and to those with information that concerns Africa.

Via its online platform, which operates as an interface on the GlobaLeaks platform, PPLAAF provides a transmission system and a protected telephone line, and brings together lawyers, international legal experts, and NGOs ready to provide legal assistance to whistleblowers before, during, and after disclosure, even if they lack financial resources, and connects them with international and African journalists and media outlets, while also providing support to journalists to deepen their investigations.  PPLAAF also conduct research and advocacy for the adoption of progressive whistleblower protection laws in Africa, and they provide technical assistance to authorities looking to write them.

Activities
PPLAAF provides a variety of services for whistleblowers, NGOs, media, and governments.

To date PPLAAF has supported dozens of whistleblowers from various backgrounds by providing free legal advice and representation, conducting risks assessments and other support to ensure their safety, and acting as an intermediary between the whistleblower and journalists or the authorities, and more.  The team has worked with governments and law enforcement, and has created investigative packages for media and supported lawsuits by NGOs.

Two of PPLAAF’s clients in South Africa demonstrate the important role the organisation plays.  Mosilo Mothepu served as CEO at Trillian Financial Advisory, a firm owned by the notorious Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa, and was the first whistleblower to step forward on State Capture in South Africa.  When she noticed significant and questionable activities involving South African state-owned enterprises, she resigned and disclosed to the Public Protector, who was investigating at the time.  Being exposed publicly against her will led to lawsuits and prevented Mothepu from finding employment.  With PPLAAF’s support, she regained control of her engagement with the media and subsequently testified in front of Parliament.  In 2018, South African authorities declined to pursue charges against her.

Bianca Goodson, CEO of another Trillian subsidiary, noticed the activities of the company did not align with what she had been told within months of joining the firm.  Inspired by Mothepu, she resigned and released a detailed statement through PPLAAF and later testified to Parliament as well.  Based heavily on her disclosures, in 2018 a parliamentary committee recommended a review of the legislative and regulatory framework for state-owned enterprises, and the High Court later ruled that a huge payment made to Trillian was illegal.

Similar stories of PPLAAF’s work in Algeria, DRC, Nigeria, Namibia, Angola, and elsewhere abound.

We are proud to announce a grant of $280,000 to support PPLAAF’s continued growth and expansion to protect more whistleblowers across the continent over the next two years.  The ability to speak out safely is crucial to the functioning of democracy, and most especially to the fight against corruption, and we therefore see PPLAAF’s work as an important foundational piece of Luminate’s work in advancing civic empowerment and financial transparency in Africa.