“The fight to defeat corruption is one we cannot afford to lose… If corruption is not defeated it will indeed mean the decay and ultimately the death of the living body of our democracy. For some, it is a matter of life and death, as people are being literally killed for exposing and preventing corruption,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, newly elected Chairperson of the National Anti-Corruption Forum and COSATU’s General Secretary.
Speaking at Unisa on 10 November during the commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day, Vavi said the misconception that corruption covers just financial transactions is untrue. He listed acts such as bribery, tender-abuse and other immoral conduct, such as human trafficking, sexual abuse of learners by teachers, or the torture of suspects by police, as forms of corruption. Such behaviour, he said, should not be tolerated or accepted by the public, and they had every right to voice their opinions without fear of being victimised.
He lambasted corrupt politicians and officials who built political support by bribing people to back their factions, which were no longer based on ideological differences but on who had the “biggest treasure chest to dole out favours”. Leadership contestation is changing from being about the battle of ideas into battles for control of the public purse-strings, said Vavi.
“We must do much more to encourage and defend the whistle-blowers who are risking their jobs and even their lives to expose corruption. The recent conviction of the murderers of North West ANC councillor, Moss Phakoe, exposed the lengths that corrupt councillors will go to, up to and including murder, to cover up their crimes and silence those who blow the whistle. How can we tolerate the spectacle we have witnessed recently of people demonstrating outside courtrooms in defence of someone accused of corruption, or even murder?”
Walk the talk
Vavi admitted that while all stakeholders – government, business, labour, civil society, all political parties and religious denominations – were unanimous and vehement in condemning corruption in principle, “none of us are doing enough to turn principles into action on the ground.” This, he said, was one of the biggest difficulties the country faces. “Despite all our fine resolutions, the problem remains endemic. In Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2012, South Africa now ranks 69 out of 176 countries. We have fallen 31 places since 2001 when we were 38 out of 91 countries.”
The index, said Vavi, measured perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, bribery, the abuse of public resources, secrecy in decision making, anti-corruption laws and conflicts of interest in respect of government officials. And while the survey is only one of perceptions, there is plenty of evidence in South Africa to suggest that the perceptions are based on reality and echo the thousands of reports from ordinary people confronting corruption daily.
Misconduct and private affairs
Among the statistics and examples of corruption in South Africa provided by Vavi were the Auditor General’s findings which were also echoed in the findings of the Public Service Commission (PSC). These revealed that the cost of financial misconduct to the state in 2010/2011 was R932 million, up from R346 million in 2009/2010 and R100 million in 2008/2009.
In 2010/2011, 838 senior officials were charged with financial misconduct, compared with 689 and 652 in the previous two years. “This report leads us to one of the critical problems – that in 2010/2011, 20% of senior managers in the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as well as 19% in the Department of Transport and 17% in the Department of Public Works, had interests in private firms.
“…Public servants should be banned altogether from doing business with the government. They must choose either to serve the public or to go into private business but never the two at the same time. The same rule should apply to union and civil society leaders. You can’t be a referee and a player at the same time and then think everything will be fine. It’s just not fine.”
Vavi also supports PSC Director-General Prof Richard Levin’s proposal for lifestyle audits of key staff, and audits into employees’ indebtedness. He said this should also apply to union members and should target even junior staff.
PSC Chairperson Ben Mthembu added: “The involvement of officials in private business entities is generally a worrying factor. Some officials seem to conduct business with employing departments and the PSC is of the view that this acts as a breeding ground for corruption.”
He said the PSC writes letters annually to executive authorities asking to be informed on both potential and actual conflicts of interest that might exist in the public sectors. “We encourage these executive authorities to deal with such issues.”
He said 2 200 public-sector employees were found guilty of misconduct between September 2004 and March this year. Of those, 1 504 officials were dismissed, 341 were given final written warnings, 202 were prosecuted, 139 were fined, and 16 were demoted.
Unisa’s anti-corruption stance
Unisa Chairperson of Council Dr Mathews Phosa said good governance is a priority at the university and “whether the conduct is termed corruption, bribery, fraud, or abuse or misuse of power, we abhor its existence and will ensure that it is rooted out.”
“The university,” said Phosa, “has been fair but fearless in advancing its value proposition of zero-tolerance to fraud, corruption and other irregularities and we pride ourselves on the principle that the rules apply equally to all people in the university, irrespective of position, power or influence. The institutional policies and intrepid stance against corruption is supported by the Council. We recognise that we have set the bar high and intend to implement our commitment to our students and stakeholders – we want an ethical university.”
Phosa said the unequivocal truth is that the fight against corruption should not be dictated by position, age, gender, or race.
“Corruption is a distasteful scourge that we, the right-minded and integrity-focused, must take the lead to destroy. I am pained when I read, on the one hand, of the abuses of power for unwarranted financial gain that seem to have become the order of the day in some circles, whilst on the one hand, there are service delivery protests, inadequate housing and hospital facilities, and the majority of the population living below the breadline. I am then forced to question: Where has the allocated budget gone? Has anyone been called to account? Where have we taken the wrong road? And what has happened to the spirit of conscience and ubuntu that was the spirit of Africa during the struggle for democracy. I am wholly intolerant of the sentiment that I sometimes hear as an excuse for irregular conduct – ‘I did not take part in the struggle to remain poor’,” said Phosa.
The costs of corruption
Deputy Minister for Public Service and Administration Ayanda Dlodlo said South Africa had lost an unquantifiable amount of money because of corruption. This is money that could have been utilised for poverty alleviation, service delivery and the general upliftment of society, she said. “Although all of us are affected by corruption, the impact falls most heavily on the poor who get deprived of their basic rights and access to quality services. Therefore, it is the responsibility for all of us to fight corruption.”
Dlodlo also spoke of the National Crime Prevention Strategy, which she said has “sadly” not been implemented over time. “I implore that we revisit the strategy because it deals with a lot of the frustration we all have with this fight against corruption…We should start building on what it suggests.”
She added that if all stakeholders worked in silos, there would be no impact, and stressed the importance of working together.
Written by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester