Corruption Watch

Hope for turning SA’s corruption tide around runs thin

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The poison of corruption in Africa’s body politic is deeply ingrained and actions to deal with it lag far behind public commitments.

Last week we wrote that the march against corruption is an opportunity not to be wasted. There were some positive signs as thousands took to the streets in Tshwane and Cape Town, but other news events have caused hope of turning the corruption tide around to run thin.

There was a flicker of hope that on the corruption front the governing ANC-alliance is moderating its normal confrontational approach when it welcomed the march in a statement. At the same time, however, the party’s youth league (ANCYL) launched an attack on the key organisers of the march.

Action and words

The biggest problem in the fight against corruption, however, remains that actions very seldom match the promises expressed.

For example, in January of last year the ANC’s National Executive Committee called for strong action against civil servants and others found to have been involved in corruption. However, a year later, in February of this year it was reported that a municipal manager embroiled in “a jobs-for-ANC-cadres scandal might not face disciplinary action due to the protection he is getting from the party.”

In another prominent news item last week the Constitutional Court, in a split decision, on a legal technicality, dismissed an application for political parties to be compelled to disclose information about their private funders.

The ANC, in welcoming the decision via a statement the next day by its parliamentary chief whip, Stone Sizani, referrend to a resolution taken at the (ANC) Polokwane conference in 2007, directing the movement to champion the introduction of a comprehensive system of public funding of representative political parties in the different spheres of government and civil society organisations …”, and:

“According to the resolutions, this should include putting in place an effective regulatory architecture for private funding of political parties and civil society groups to enhance accountability and transparency to the citizenry.”

It is now just short of eight years later and there is still no sign of that “regulatory architecture”. This leaves the public in the dark as to how policy and governance decisions are influenced by special interests.

An insightful article by Mamokgethi Molopyane in Moneyweb last week, posed the question, “who is an influencer?” He defined an influencer “…as a person (or group) whose voice is heard on public interest matters - be it social or economic policy”.

Against this background, transparency on how and by whom political parties are funded, is an essential tool to combat corruption.

Root problem

One of the root problems in this regard is to what extent the ANC got itself entangled in a net of conflicting interests throughout society. This makes taking a neutral stance in its role as the government of the day virtually impossible.

A year ago a report by Corruption Watch pointed out how, under ANC government, nepotism, cadre deployment, patronage and cronyism have eroded ethical standards throughout the country’s body politic at all levels of governance – “We hear those terms often, but what do they mean, not just literally, but for South Africa? Why are these practices so harmful, especially in the public sector?”

With reference to cadre deployment the report, for example, states: “The cadre is accountable to the party and the party comes first – sometimes even before the law, the Constitution, and the public.”

How the network of conflicting interest, in combination with the lack of transparency, in matters like the funding of political parties, undermines the trust between government and other spheres in society, is well illustrated by the unfolding drama surrounding the contract between electricity utility Eskom and Hitachi Ltd.

The payment of what amounts to an admission of guilt fine by Hitachi for bribery to the United States Securities Exchange Commission, concerning a triparty deal between itself, Eskom and the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House, has opened a new can of worms.

It follows hot on the heels of a report by the Public Protector (PP) on alleged widespread maladministration and tender irregularities at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), which among others, implicated the company of a sitting ANC member of parliament.

Suspicions were voiced that outside influences on the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) were responsible for delaying the original plans for the mass anticorruption march.

In a statement in reaction to Nedlac’s refusal to grant them a protection order for last week’s march, the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said: “We are convinced that Nedlac has been captured by forces within and outside government opposed to the march, by using technicalities to undermine and sabotage it. We want to caution Nedlac not to allow itself to be used for factional and political ends.”

The aim of Nedlac, according to its website, is to be a platform where “Government comes together with organised business, organised labour and organised community groupings on a national level to discuss and try to reach consensus on issues of social and economic policy”, and to make economic decision-making more inclusive, to promote the goals of economic growth and social equity.”

Interestingly enough, in June of this year a Nedlac delegation was blocked by ANC members of parliament’s Labour Committee from briefing the committee on proposed steps to combat fraud and corruption after an audit uncovered widespread incidents of theft and irregular spending on travel, cell phones, luxury car hire and the abuse of credit cards.

The investigation found that senior officials, including a former executive director, Herbert Mkhize, had abused the system by overspending more than R1m. Mr Mkhize now serves as a special advisor to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

Conclusion

Hope is fading fast that the Unite Against Corruption (UAC) and their marches will deliver a platform for the emergence of positive unifying solutions to the scourge of corruption, in view of:

  • The postponement of Numsa’s participation, which has now turned into an own march next week; it is poised to become a show of force, Numsa having been one of the leading organisations of the (UAC);
  • The laying of criminal charges, and calls for investigations by the PP and the World Bank into the Hitachi affair;
  • The renewed attention focused on an alleged  “corrupt” and “wasteful” contract by the ANC-controlled City of Tshwane for the supply of new electricity smart meters; and
  • A myriad of other cases of alleged corruption, including the still-lingering Nkandla affair.

It rather seems that the country should brace itself for a period of intensified confrontation and political posturing around the issue of corruption for some time to come.

                                                                                                                                                                                  by Steve Whiteman

Also readCould the upcoming ANC council give a glimpse on policy?



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