Eradicating the scourge of corruption

May 17 2017 09:47
Theuns Eloff

Theuns Elloff is the former vice -chancellor of North-West University and is presently the executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

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Transparency International publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which measures “perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys” in 175 countries. The CPI’s definition of corruption is the misuse of public power for private benefit. It therefore focuses mainly on corruption in and by the public sector.  In 2015 South Africa was ranked 61st out of 168 countries, with a score of 44 out of 100. A score of 100 means that a country is virtually free of corruption and a score of 1 means that the country is very corrupt.

What is particularly disturbing in SA is that senior political leaders employ their positions of power and questionable methods to enrich themselves by, for example, awarding tenders to family members, and use public money for their personal needs and affairs. Willie Hofmeyr, former head of the now disbanded Scorpions, reported to Parliament in 2011 that between R25bn and R30bn had disappeared from the state’s coffers in this way. 

Widespread corruption is a sign of a failing state and indicates a lack of transparency in the state. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money and affects service delivery at local and national level extremely negatively.  

In 2016, Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, said that one of the three things that will destroy the ANC soon, is corruption. In a similar vein, the 101 ANC stalwarts said in their 2017 statement that “(w)e have observed the ill-begotten wealth among some of our leaders at all levels” and that “the leadership of the ANC has […] pre-occupied itself with defending personal interests, interests of colleagues, families and friends, at the expense of the people of South Africa, particularly the poor…”  and “failed to act decisively against corruption [...] in the ANC and the Alliance”.

Fixing the system

Even though it may be difficult in the present circumstances, let us fast forward to May 2019, after the general election. Let us say the winning party elected a new president who wants to fight corruption, realising that if this is not done, the chances of SA becoming a failed state become much higher. How should they go about it?

This would be a long and arduous process. A two-pronged approach would be necessary: fighting existing corruption, and preventing further corruption.

In fighting corruption, the political and moral will to do so should be made clear and be one of the first priorities of a new president’s strategy. They should lead by example.

Secondly, they could start by submitting the whole Cabinet and leadership of the governing party – at all three levels of government – to a voluntary lifestyle audit. These lifestyle audits should be conducted by an independent body, not under the oversight of the Executive – a Chapter 9-like institution.

In a 2016 conference hosted by the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law (SAIFAC), an integrity commission was proposed. This commission would be established through a constitutional amendment and should have the following features: political and operational independence, satisfactory training of all staff, adequate resources, and security of tenure. Such a commission would have a mammoth task, but it is one that our country and its new leadership cannot shirk away from. It would weed out corrupt politicians and business people in a systematic way.

Third, there is the possibility of rewards for whistle-blowers of corrupt activities. Recognition rather than victimisation. Ordinary South Africans often know of or suspect corruption, but do not want to come forward and expose it. There should be an incentive to do so.

Fourth, party political structures, under the leadership of the new president and his or her Cabinet, should use party disciplinary procedures to weed out corrupt office-bearers. They should be made to realise that it is in their own best interests and those of their (especially poor) constituents to do so.

Back to Batho pele

Preventing corruption should be a parallel strategy. In the business world, there are numerous training programmes on anti-corruption available. All listed companies should have a social and ethics board committee, with a focus on corruption. This should also be applied to the public service.

Further, the culture of the public service will have to be changed. In the 90s, the slogan was Batho pele – the people first. Through corruption and incompetence, this has become Ke pele – me first. A service-orientated public service cannot tolerate corruption, and it can only work if the right people are appointed. The president of the country has little power to fire a corrupt and incompetent mayor in a rural area. This “fix” will only come about through the slow process of changing the culture throughout the public service.

During the same conference mentioned above, a human rights approach to corruption was proposed. This entails empowering citizens to hold government – as the custodian of public money – to a higher level of accountability. Empowering ordinary people through education and the right and access to information should be used to prevent and fight corruption.

According to the Helen Suzman Foundation,  “The role of civil societies and media in enhancing good governance by exposing corruption, putting pressure on the government to implement anti-corruption machinery and to govern in a transparent and accountable manner with integrity cannot be overstated. Transparency, accountability and integrity must become a lifestyle if we are to effectively eradicate corruption.”

Spare a thought for the massive task the new president will be facing in fighting and preventing corruption. Let us – as ordinary South Africans – hope that the leadership of the various parties will keep this in mind in electing their – and our – leaders.

* The first three paragraphs are an excerpt from Eloff’s book Turning Point, published in March 2017 by Tafelberg.

Theuns Eloffis the former vice-chancellor of North-West University and is presently the executive director of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the 11 May edition of finweekBuy and download the magazine here.


corruption  |  public sector  |  anc  |  jacob zuma