NOW that lekgotla season is upon us, the leadership in the governing alliance is reflecting on the role of corruption in SA and its effect on the success of the nation. This is as it should be.
The general definition of corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. Most public offices in SA are in the hands of the alliance. Generating the political will to deal with corruption is accordingly the business of the alliance and it is welcome news that attention is being given to the topic.
This is how African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe puts it: “SA, even in the context of the continent, is perceived to be the most corrupt country. This perception derives from the narrative, constantly repeated in the public, about corruption in the public sector and less so in the private sector. Our public representatives are caught in this narrative to a point that they cannot demystify it. At other times they are overly sensitive, even to false allegations, in their responses.
“The perception and image of our country can only be changed by concrete programmes that lead to prosecution and conviction of those involved. We must be bold in dealing with corruption within our ranks, first, and in society more broadly.”
“In the alliance summit we raised questions about corporate capture when business interests manipulate political and administrative process for their benefit at the expense of the people. Therefore, how widespread is the practice of name-dropping when transgressions are committed in the public sector and, therefore, end up dragging the ANC in the mud when resources are being leaked? Are there parallel processes that strengthen the infrastructure for the corruption industry?
“Political appointments at the senior level of the state cannot be immune to this tendency. How much resources get leaked as a result of … this growing tendency? The real question is whether corruption is systemic or not. It would be systemic if it is embedded in systems of the state.
“But also important is whether the people we have in the state are of the calibre that they can steer clear of such manipulations and unethical behaviour. Therefore, our assessment should transcend the debate about the skills capacity and include ethical conduct and attitude.”
The South African Communist Party (SACP) has weighed in with this contribution: “We must deal with corruption not just in theory but practically. While the scourge of corruption is not by any measure the main cause of the economic crises we are confronting as a country, corruption fragments the democratic state and our movement, and opens up space for regime-change agendas. If we are to respond effectively to the economic challenges, then it is absolutely essential that as a movement we deal decisively with corruption and corrupt individuals. In engaging with our allies … we intend to raise this matter forcefully.
“There is a widespread impression that congress and conference resolutions on fighting corruption are watered down in practice, and the recommendations of structures like the integrity committee are bypassed. Lip service to fighting corruption without action, or with half-hearted and selective action, simply compounds the problem. It is important that those within our movement who are aware of bribes passing hands, or membership fraud, should actively open up criminal cases, rather than simply repeat allegations.”
All of this demonstrates concerns, but it does not get to grips with what happens when criminal cases are “actively opened up”. The difficulty is that there is no sufficiently independent machinery of state to deal with the scourge of corruption.
The Hawks are in theory sufficiently independent, but the decapitation of its leadership, with the premature departure of Gen Anwa Dramat under a cloud of suspicion, has had a chilling effect on the level of independence of the leadership of the Hawks. That cloud has seen one of his chief collaborators, Maj-Gen Shadrack Sibiya, dismissed for his role in the rendition of several Zimbabweans to that country.
Dramat’s replacement is not known for his fierce independence but for his loyalty to Richard Mdluli, the long suspended head of police crime intelligence, who mixes politics and policing in an unbecoming manner.
Even the National Prosecuting Authority, which the Constitution requires to act “without fear, favour or prejudice”, is wracked with infighting and political intrigue that has no place in an institution of the kind it was created to be. It too suffers from the decapitation phenomenon — not a single head has seen out his 10-year term of office. A fixed term of office is meant to be a guarantor of independence.
The most viable solution for many of these problems is the creation of an integrity commission to prevent and combat corruption. Locating the Hawks within the police has been destructive of its independence, as can be inferred from Dramat’s departure and the unit’s inability to get to grips with corruption in high places.
The staff of the integrity commission should be specialised and well trained, they should enjoy security of tenure and be accountable to our multiparty Parliament, not to the executive branch of government. The resourcing of the integrity commission should be adequate and guaranteed.
All of these features will enhance the adequacy of the independence of the work it performs, as required by the Constitutional Court in the Helen Suzman Foundation and Hugh Glenister litigation.
What is not needed in the struggle against corruption is a situation such as that in which the public protector finds herself: a budget of just R246m a year and an unresolved request for an additional R200m to enable her office to deal with the avalanche of complaints that come its way.
In a properly functioning criminal justice administration much of the workload of the public protector could be passed on to the integrity commission for investigation as instances of corruption. The recent report on maladministration in the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, titled Derailed, has led to the laying of criminal charges even though the public protector steered clear of the criminal aspects of the investigation.
The governing alliance would do well to reflect on a simpler definition of corruption: “theft from the poor”. On its watch, about R700bn has been stolen from the poor via corruption. The lost opportunities for infrastructure and services for the poor that could have been provided are staggering, yet the tender system continues to bleed to corrupt activities at the rate of more than R30bn a year. The housing backlog could be eliminated more than twice over if the proceeds of corruption were to be recovered.
The alliance should champion the creation of an independent integrity commission whose personnel are well trained, properly resourced, highly specialised in fighting corruption and have security of tenure.
The SACP is right: lip service won’t do.
• Hoffman is a director of Accountability Now