OUTA congratulates City of Joburg whistleblower Sarika Lakraj
On Saturday 25 November, Sarika Lakraj received the Ahmed Kathrada Excellence in Leadership Award at the Congress of Business and Economics awards gala evening.
“At its core, whistleblowing is an act of defiance against the status quo, a resolute stance against the veils that shroud the truth. It is an embodiment of the conviction that the pursuit of justice and transparency is paramount, even when faced with the daunting presence of power structures,” said Lakraj in her award acceptance speech.
“Yet, the path of the whistleblower is not without its perils. It is a journey fraught with personal sacrifice, professional repercussions, and societal skepticism. The whistleblower stands as a sentinel at the crossroads of accountability and impunity, knowing that the road ahead is paved with challenges and potential adversities.”
Lakraj dedicated her award in remembrance of other whistleblowers: Gauteng Health official Babita Deokaran (assassinated in August 2021, see here), liquidators Cloete and Thomas Murray (assassinated in March 2023, see here), Rustenburg municipal councillor Moss Phakoe (assassinated in March 2009, see here), Roodepoort businessman Marumo Eric Phenya (assassinated in November 2022, see here), Bloem Water official Xola Banisi (assassinated in September 2014, see here), City of Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohlala (assassinated in January 2009, see here), and Mpumalanga politician James Nkambule (assassinated in October 2010, see here). She also acknowledged other whistleblowers who have faced harassment and job losses.
Lakraj herself has faced harassment and threats.
Lakraj is a whistleblower who found and reported irregularities and suspected corruption to the value of R8.2 billion at the City of Johannesburg, while she was the CFO for the City’s Department of Public Safety. In 2019 and 2020, Lakraj made protected disclosures and reported cases to the City’s Group Forensics and Investigation Service (GFIS), then later to the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks, deposing affidavits and providing evidence for the investigations into a range of dubious CoJ contracts and activities, resulting in an SIU investigation being proclaimed (the SIU proclamation is here) and 11 cases being opened with the Hawks.
The City responded by suspending her and then in June 2023 dismissing her, after a disciplinary hearing which included people whom she had implicated in wrongdoing giving evidence against her.
Shortly after Lakraj was dismissed, the City council announced it will be shutting down the GFIS department and handed its powers to city manager Floyd Brink, who was this week reappointed in a controversial process.
Lakraj worked for the City of Joburg for 15 years. Before that she was CFO of Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital, and worked with Gauteng Department of Health official Babita Deokaran, who was assassinated after blowing the whistle on health corruption.
Lakraj was recently appointed as OUTA’s Finance Manager in a temporary capacity.
She is registered with the South African Institute of Business Accountants, holds a Master’s degree in business administration and is completing her PhD on the topic “Developing a standardised strategy for the SA Government to report fraud, corruption, nepotism, and irregular business activity”.
In an interview with Lakraj about her work opposing corruption, before the City fired her, she said: “I would like my legacy to obviously outlast my life. I want to be known as being fearless. I want to be known that the state monies were actually used for its intended purpose, and if I can achieve that then I’ve got a legacy that outlives my life." (See here.)
See this piece on the flaws in the whistleblowing system, written after the City of Joburg management turned on Lakraj, here. This piece also quotes Lakraj: “Am I scared? Yes, I’m scared, but I’m not spineless. And you know what? You need to stand for something. I have a duty. This is taxpayers’ money. It was supposed to be meant for the vulnerable in the country.”
OUTA calls for greater protection for whistleblowers
OUTA salutes Lakraj for standing up against wrongdoing.
“Whistleblowers are brave individuals, who deserve to be protected. In order to eradicate corruption in our society, we desperately need more individuals willing to stand up and say no to the plundering of state funds,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA CEO.
“We need stronger protection for whistleblowers written into the law. We need more action and less lip-service from the authorities. Government has been talking about strengthening whistleblower legislation for a long time but this is not being done fast enough.”
Sarika Lakraj’s award acceptance speech is here.