Transparency Institute chairman: Whistleblower bill could protect children in homes

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TT Transparency Institute chairman Dion Abdool and Law Association president Sophia Choate at the institute’s fundraising dinner, the Brix hotel, Port of Spain on Thursday. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) chairman Dion Abdool said the Whistleblower Protection Bill if passed in Parliament could protect children in homes and combat child abuse.

Speaking to reporters at the Brix hotel, Port of Spain, during the TTTI’s annual fundraising dinner on Thursday, Abdool said the legislation was designed to protect people speaking out against all forms of corruption.

“The purpose of the legislation is to give a voice to victims as well as protect those who have to blow that whistle. Where you have those two things you have the ability to bring what is in the dark to light.”

He said it may be difficult to investigate the results of the highly publicised Robert Sabga report which highlighted incidents of sexual, psychological and emotional abuse of children at children’s homes, given that the report is 25 years old.

“What it might call for is a new report, a new assessment of the conditions now, but finding something that is 25 years old might be difficult.”

He also commented on the slow pace of the passing of the whistleblower legislation, saying it was up to the government to enact it.

“The buck stops with the Parliament,” he said. “They are our representatives and that is the forum for the formation and enactment of legislation. It is up to our parliamentarians to make this happen. As citizens of this country we have to let them know that it is important to us. And the more we talk about it then they will take notice.”

Alluding to newspaper reports of questionable behaviour of people in power, Law Association president Sophia Chote SC identified corruption as a human rights issue, which takes away the constitutional rights of honest people.

“If someone gets a contract that they are not entitled to because they are related to someone in power. That deprives another contractor of the ability to work. It also deprives that person’s employees of their opportunity to work.”

“If someone gets a pension cheque that they are not entitled to, that affects the human rights of the person who is entitled to it.”

“It has an impact on individuals. There are rights that are entrenched in our constitution that must always be kept at the forefront of the mind of a body like this.”

The Whistleblower Protection Bill is an act to combat corruption and other wrongdoings by encouraging and facilitating disclosures of improper conduct in the public and private sector, to protect persons making those disclosures from detrimental action, to regulate the receiving, investigating or otherwise dealing with disclosures of improper conduct and to provide for other matters connected therewith.

The bill was read 2018 and defeated in 2019. In 2020 the bill lapsed. It was read again in January 2022 but the Opposition once again said no to it citing clauses that absolve people making claims from any civil or disciplinary proceedings. A second reading of the bill took place in February. Debate on it is yet to resume.