The public launch yesterday of Corruption Watch — an initiative of the Congress of South African Trade Unions that will be funded independently but which has been endorsed by the government and a range of civil society and business organisations — is arguably the most important political development in South Africa since the Polokwane putsch of 2007. That is because it strongly reinforces the Zuma administration’s decision to opt for clean government rather than the “tenderpreneur” culture epitomised by now suspended African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president Julius Malema and the style of crony capitalism as practised by officials in Limpopo.
This was a choice Mr Zuma was always going to have to make, although he managed to avoid doing so for a remarkably long time while he consolidated political power after defeating former president Thabo Mbeki. The decision to discipline Mr Malema was the first definitive step in the right direction; the commission of inquiry into the arms deal the second; and the crackdown in Limpopo the third.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s enthusiastic support for Corruption Watch and all that implies is surely the point of no return.
And not a moment too soon; tolerance of corruption, often disguised as affirmative procurement or black economic empowerment, was a terrible price for the country to have to pay to settle a power struggle within the ANC.
As revealed by the Treasury’s initial probe of Limpopo’s finances, corruption has rapidly become a way of life in parts of South Africa. Auditor-general Terence Nombembe uncovered more than R20bn in unauthorised expenditure in 2010-11, much of it money that was simply stolen, while Willie Hofmeyr, the former head of the Special Investigating Unit, estimated that the government loses about R30bn to corruption every year.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ most recent annual global survey of South Africa’s CEOs found that 66% were concerned about bribery and corruption, well ahead of the global average of 34%, and a TNS poll towards the end of last year found that 83% of adults in the country’s metropolitan areas believed corruption to be rife.
While there is reason to believe the government is sincere in its desire to eradicate corruption, the best intentions are all too often thwarted by party-political imperatives. The Corruption Watch initiative is therefore an essential weapon in the battle. Make no mistake, this is war; there are too many people whose livelihoods now depend on sucking the state dry for the victory to be an easy one.
While Corruption Watch’s investigative capacity will be limited, the importance of the organisation’s emphasis on broad public and corporate participation in the campaign, and its plan to make widespread use of social media, cannot be underestimated. In the words of director David Lewis, whose past experience as chairman of the Competition Tribunal stands him in good stead: “No matter how good the police are, and as important as it is to prosecute, we’re not going to solve this scourge by serial prosecution but by people standing up to it in both the public and the private sector.” Where corruption has become a way of life, the public must be persuaded that it is antisocial behaviour and that its practitioners should be ostracised.
It has been suggested that South Africa follow the example of the UK and US, both of which have enacted specific anti-bribery laws. But corporate South Africa can pre-empt the legislative process by taking proactive measures to combat corruption. Some multinational groups — BHP Billiton and Anglo American are examples — already have policies in place to help their employees avoid corrupt dealings with the state, and this should become the norm. No institution is better placed to intervene to this end than the JSE; combating corruption is surely a fundamental principle underpinning sound corporate governance.
Source: Business Day