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What Are We Going To Do About Corruption?

Tying The Tourniquet

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) recently released its 2019 report on public sector corruption in 180 countries around the world. It gave each one a score of between zero (highly corrupt) and 100 (very clean) based on their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people. Not surprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring region, with an average of just 32. This might be a pass mark for SA government school Matric maths, but in terms of how the rest of the world sees us, it’s a definite fail.

South Africa’s score was 44, above average yes, but still nothing to boast about. It placed us 70th in the world, and very definitely toward the bottom third of all countries rated. What’s more concerning, though, is that our score has only varied one point (either higher or lower) from our scores over the past five years. South Africa has shown no progress or movement in the fight against corruption, despite almost two years of promises from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

As recently as 18 months ago, the President referred to former President Jacob Zuma’s term in office as “the lost decade,” characterised by nepotism, state capture and rampant corruption. He vowed to take decisive action against those responsible. To this end, he set up a State Capture Commission of Enquiry that has, to date, sat for over 190 days and heard testimonies from over 150 witnesses. The sheer volume of paper evidence is staggering – upwards of 27 000 pages, with an additional almost half a million pages of exhibits.

Yet it seems to have made not one bit of difference. The prosecution rate of guilty individuals sits at less than 4%, and our corruption perception score remains more or less unchanged. So are we just tilting at windmills?

As journalist Omphemetse S. Sibanda writes in an article for The Daily Maverick, “There is a perceived lack of a demonstration of the ability to prosecute grand corruption and there is a general lethargy from political parties to hold their former politicians and public officials accountable for the misuse of state resources.”

He also says, “Year after year, State of the Nation Address (SONA) commitment after SONA commitment, South Africa is failing to shake off corruption and corrupt practices – real and perceived,” and asks, “Why should this be the case? What is taking the government of South Africa so long to reverse the trend?

It’s an excellent question, and one which every concerned South African is asking.

The Dismal State Of State Owned Enterprises

Nowhere is corruption more evident than in the catastrophic performances of our state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In the past couple of weeks, South African Airways (SAA) has cancelled hundreds of flights in a desperate attempt to cut costs. The airline hasn’t made a profit since 2011, and numerous attempts to turn the company around have failed dismally. In the last two financial years, it has managed to lose over R10 billion.

Power utility Eskom is no better off, resuming loadshedding at the end of January after a scant three weeks of keeping the lights on. This means South Africa finished the first month of 2020 the same way we started – in the dark. New Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter says loadshedding is set to be a regular part of our lives in the short to medium term as he implements a ruthless schedule of long-overdue maintenance.

“We will unfortunately have to expect some increase in loadshedding,” he said. “We have to give ourselves the space to fix what needs to be fixed. If we don’t implement this maintenance plan, there is a very real risk that the deterioration in our systems will continue.”

In addition to trying to keep the lights on in the long term, Eskom’s management also has to contend with over R450 billion of debt, the repayment of which isn’t helped by the fact that it isn’t even generating enough income to cover its operational costs, never mind think about servicing debt. The company has already been the beneficiary of more than one government bailout, but finance minister Tito Mboweni says there’s no capacity for any additional funding.

Local Is No Longer So Lekker

In a sad echo of the SOE giants, hundreds of local municipalities are also feeling the effects of years of mismanagement, corruption, bad leadership and unchecked greed. In a recent visit to the Northern Cape, President Ramaphosa said, “It was disheartening to see that despite progress in many areas, there were several glaring instances of service delivery failures. Many of the places we visited struggle to provide social infrastructure and services simply because they have such a small revenue base. But, in some cases, elected officials and public servants have neglected their responsibilities.

“A common feature in most of these towns, which is evident throughout all spheres of government, is that the state often lacks the necessary capacity to adequately meet people’s needs.”

A Possible Plan Of Action?

While President Ramaphosa hasn’t yet come up with a detailed action plan of how he proposes to address this situation, Transparency International has already drawn up seven key recommendations to boost our anti-corruption strategy:

  1. Reinforce checks and balances and promote separation of powers
  2. Tackle preferential treatment to ensure budgets and public services aren’t driven by personal connections or bias.
  3. Control political financing to prevent excessive money and influence in politics.
  4. Manage conflicts of interest and address “revolving doors.”
  5. Regulate lobbying activities by promoting open and meaningful access to decision-making.
  6. Strengthen electoral integrity and sanction misinformation campaigns.
  7. Empower citizens and protect activists, whistle-blowers and journalists.

President Ramaphosa did, however, make this bold, but hopeful, statement:

“This administration has prioritised the task of building a capable state. A capable state starts with the people who work in it. Officials and managers must possess the right financial and technical skills and other expertise. We are committed to ending the practice of poorly qualified individuals being parachuted into positions of authority through political patronage. There should be consequences for all those in the public service who do not do their work.”

These are powerful words, but ones which, in an ironic twist, are actually making the feeding frenzy within the ANC worse! Desperate politicians and government officials are trying to get their hands on as much money as possible before President Ramaphosa’s promised reforms mean they lose control over the purse strings. They are simply not interested in what their leader has to say about improving the lives of South Africa’s citizens. Their only motivation is to line their own pockets as thickly as they can, while they still can.

As concerned citizens of our beautiful country, we call on our democratically elected leaders to stop these practices and make good on our President’s promises. It’s time to stop using public administration and SOEs as havens for cadre deployment of party loyalists. How can there be any transparency or accountability when it comes to public service delivery when hosts of deployed cadres operate with impunity, completely disregarding our country’s constitutionally enshrined laws, and the ethos behind them?

Of course, it’s not just the “big” issues that need addressing. Much like a tooth with a cavity, we need to fix the small holes early on before the entire tooth rots from the unchecked decay.

For proof of the efficacy of this strategy, we only have to look to our American neighbours. “Broken Windows” is one of the most referred-to articles in the history of criminology. Some even call it the “Bible of Policing.” The theory is this:

When criminals see broken windows in a particular part of town, they perceive that area to have weak social controls, meaning any criminal activity is unlikely to be detected. But when broken windows are fixed, graffiti removed, and loitering and public intoxication dealt with – and the guilty parties convicted – criminals are less likely to operate in that area.

“If you take care of the little things, then you can prevent a lot of the big things,” says former Los Angeles and New York City police chief, William J. Bratton.

Our governing party must now set the right course, and our government officials must execute it. Any failure to do so must have consequences.

As Terry Booysen, Director and co-founder of the Corporate Governance Framework (CGF) asked in a recent Tweet: “Sheer will, determination and guts is what Ramaphosa needs to drive his vision of a capable state. Are you up to the task, Mr President?”

JGL Forensic Services is a multidisciplinary team of experienced forensic accounting and investigation professionals. We strongly believe in the rule of law and the scientific method as it applies to forensic accounting and investigation. Talk to us in confidence, and let’s work together to prevent corporate corruption and fraud.