Corruption Watch

Anatomy of corruption – problem will not disappear with Zuma

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 If President Jacob Zuma leaves office tomorrow, corruption will not slip out the back door with him. It is way too deeply interwoven with our political economy for simplistic solutions.

It is also a fallacy to project corruption as the exclusive domain of government, politicians and/or political parties. Politicians, civil servants or state enterprise employees cannot engage in the corruption game without private sector players – be it individuals or companies – as their partners.

That Mr Zuma, or at least the use and misuse of his name, has over years played a prominent role in the exponential growth of corruption, cannot be denied. But the problem runs much deeper and wider than to be ascribed his controversial rise to the top of the political ladder in 2009.

Scope and cost of corruption

One only has to look at the disparate instances, with the figures involved, of alleged corruption in the public domain to recognise its disturbing scope and cost to the economy and taxpayers.

Some of the recent examples, excluding the R246 million involving the Nkandla affair, include:

  • The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) approaching the High Court to declare two contracts with a security company, worth R4 billion, invalid. This follows two months after a similar request for the cancellation of an agreement, worth R3,5 billion, to supply locomotives, and in the wake of an August 2015 Public Protector report concluding that PRASA between 2008 and 2013 displayed a culture of “systemic failure” to comply with supply-chain policy;
  • Questionable payments, according to media reports, of almost R80 million made to an Angolan businesswoman and close friend of president and to a controversial lawyer and business partner of one of Mr Zuma’s sons (This particular Zuma sibling was also in 2013 implicated in a PetroSA corruption scandal to the tune of some R11 million channelled from contracts to unknown third parties.);
  • A company of a trustee of two of Mr Zuma’s trusts receiving shares worth an estimated R122.4 million from a loan deal with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC); and
  • Irregular expenditure, according to a report based on findings of the Institute of Internal Auditors of South Africa (IIASA) in September last year, of R2.429 billion incurred by 17 municipal auditees in the Free State during 2013-14. And the City of Tshwane’s agreement worth R830 million for the installation of prepaid electricity meters which was deemed to be “an exceedingly expensive and corrupt imbroglio."

The report also referred to the fact that in January 2015 three Tshwane Metro cops were arrested for bribery; 67 members of its anti-corruption unit sacked in late 2011 before the unit was disbanded in 2012; and “a worrying 184 out of 2 600” Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers probed for corruption between 2009 and 2011.

To this can be added the hidden cost of false qualification claims, on which key appointments are sometimes made, and a 2015 report that found the “Marabastad refugee office in Pretoria is a hotbed of corruption and bribery”.

Anatomy of corruption

To understand that the corruption problem cannot be linked to only the Zuma administration, and that it will not disappear if and when he leaves office, it is instructive to take a look at a chapter in a September 2001 report of the Institute for Security South Africa (ISS).

Under the heading “Causes of and Conditions for Corruption” it reflects the results of a panel survey. It states: When asked to identify the main causes of corruption in South Africa, respondents provided a wealth of different answers, grouped into five categories for analysis.

These categories in order of prominence are:

  • A decline in morals and ethics – the most commonly cited reason for corruption in South African society at 31%;
  • Greed and the desire of self-enrichment at 25%;
  • Socio-economic conditions such as poverty and unemployment at 18%;
  • Institutional reasons such as weak checks and balances at 14%; and
  • The apartheid legacy and the process of transformation at 12%.

The analysis states: “It would appear that the moral regeneration of South Africa and former president Mandela’s call for a ‘reconstruction and development programme of the soul’ is a priority intimately linked to the effective fight against corruption.

“Clearly, it cannot be assumed that the technicity approach to public service reform is sufficient in preventing corruption and more fundamental interventions are required from an early age, rather than on the job training, to promote morals and values that uphold the values enshrined in the constitution.”

New democracies

A section in the report, reflecting international expert surveys on the creation of new democracies, is especially pertinent to the South African situation. It states:

“Democratic systems of governance premised on commitments to accountability, openness and transparency are also thought to create conditions that discourage corruption.

“However, Johnston suggests that democratic rights and processes as such do not make a significant contribution to reducing corruption. Indeed, there are many examples of countries where corruption has increased in spite of the existence of formal democratic institutions … While political competition offers opportunities for the new political élite to gain legitimacy by taking action against corruption, it can also enable them to secure greater access to existing rentseeking opportunities.”

In another report 12 years later in December 2013 the ISS, referring to the passing of Nelson Mandela wrote: “It is … saddening to see how far some in the ruling elite have strayed from the example set by this great man.

“An important barometer of the extent of this problem, is growing public sector corruption, whereby public funds are being diverted away from the public good towards private interests.

“Of course private sector corruption is also a problem, but until we get a handle on corruption in government, private sector corruption will continue to flourish.”

Why is this happening despite 13 public sector agencies with particular legal or policy mandates to combat graft, a number of mechanisms like the National Anti-Corruption Task Team, dedicated policies, standards and legislation specifically designed to enable the state to tackle corruption through both criminal and civil action?

A report by Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs presented to parliament, and contained in Public Service Commission reports, found that the amount involved (in public sector related corruption) “increased from R130 million in 2006/07 to over R1 billion in 2011/12”.

There was evidence that the heart of the problem lay in the lack of accountability for maladministration and corruption. Corruption Watch stated it starts with the president. Despite various efforts by government to tackle corruption, it was countered by the continuing impunity on the part of those who were politically and financially powerful.

“In particular, it was explained that the ‘Gupta wedding saga and on-going fiasco surrounding the president’s private Nkandla residence are indicators in the past year of impunity in operation,” the ISS wrote.

“President Zuma is not solely responsible for all corruption in the public sector, but he certainly has stymied any progress that could have been made in this regard,” they added.

Conclusion

The ISS concluded: “Rather than trying to justify the indefensible or attacking important institutions such as the Public Protector, the ANC now needs to be at the forefront of holding its leaders to account for corruption and maladministration. Failing to do so will not only undermine Mandela’s proud legacy, but will also further damage South Africa’s prospects of solving its most pressing problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality.”

Instead, last week’s case in the Constitutional Court about the status of the powers of the Public Protector, has come a long way to ensure accountability of the executive – the core tool for combating corruption.

Also read: As Zuma’s sun sets, democracy shines

                   Zuma exit strategy started as constitution wins in court

by Piet Coetzer

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