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Corruption cannot continue to go unpunished

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Corruption cannot continue to go unpunished

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26th May 2022

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When he appeared to give evidence to the SA Human Rights Commission inquiry into the July 2021 insurrection, President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that SA had not become a failed state … yet. He went on to compare the good ship SA to the SS Titanic, not a good analogy, given the fate of the Titanic.

SA need not become a failed state if steps are taken to stop the rot. Foremost among these steps is the reform of the criminal justice administration to render it fit for the purpose of countering corruption effectively and efficiently.

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Fortunately, the Constitutional Court has set the criteria and created the rules by which an anti-corruption entity should function.

Accountability Now recently sat down to have a discussion with retired Constitutional Court Justice, Richard Goldstone. The interview covers a variety of topics, including the power of the South African Constitution as well as effective solutions to the crisis of corruption. Watch the full interview with retired Constitutional Court Justice, Richard Goldstone

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Corruption is a global issue

I was first involved with grand corruption in 2004, the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, asked me to join a small committee of three, headed by Paul Volcker, the former Chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States. The enquiry was into the corruption that was associated with the United Nations programme on Iraq oil. The security council decided to lift oil sanctions against Iraq because people were starving in that country, but they insisted all the money is to be paid into an account controlled by the United Nations. Saddam Hussein, the then autocratic leader of Iraq, insisted behind the scenes on 5% break-off for him personally of all the oil sales, and the proceeds of those oil sales. The amount he received came to many billions of dollars. There were allegations that UN personal were involved, and that governments were involved and so forth.

It was a big investigation, we set up an office of nearly 100 people, and what it taught me was that corruption is universal. South Africa is not special, Zimbabwe is not special. Unfortunately, I think corruption in the human gene.

Who suffers most from grand corruption? 

The poor people pay for corruption. The wealthy shrug their shoulders and may disapprove of it, but it doesn’t affect their lifestyle. The money is taken away from the very people who make our society so unequal. Particularly in South Africa, where the Gini coefficient indicates that South Africa has the greatest gap between the wealthy and poor of any country in the world, that is something we should be ashamed of. 

Despite having a world-class constitution, grand corruption is a massive issue in South Africa. Why is this?

It is wrong to blame corruption or other ills in our society on the constitution. South Africa has the most modern and up-to-date constitution and an exemplary bill of rights. The problem is that the constitution cannot force people to do the right thing. The constitution cannot stop people from stealing or murdering or bank robberies. The constitution is to order our society and ensure that people have fair trials, because as bad as corruption is, nobody wants innocent people to be found guilty. The constitution brings about equality.

It’s a pity the constitution wasn’t used more by the post-apartheid government to level the property inequalities in our country.  People blame the constitution; it’s actually lack of political will, not the constitution. 

How can we improve our ability to effectively respond to acts of corruption?

The whole problem surrounding corruption is inefficient policing and inefficient prosecution. There is no question about that. In any society, the more efficient the police and prosecuting, the lower the crime rate will be. And this is true with corruption.  The prosecution service was gutted during the Zuma administration. Nobody questions that anymore.  The leading members of our national prosecution authority have gone to parliament and said that our system been gutted and that we need more efficient people. Also, the prosecution authority has to be independent. It’s for that reason that I fully support the campaign and project of Accountability Now for having a Chapter Nine Institution to head anti-corruption at leadership level.

Where should we focus our anti-corruption efforts?

The problem lies in the hands of the politicians, but they are subject to public opinion. It is important that all South Africans, particularly young South Africans, who will have to live in a world where our present day leaders are making for them. Louis Brandeis, Former US Supreme Court Justice said: “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher, crime is contagious, if the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy”. I think those words should be put on the door of every law maker, at every level – national, provincial and local levels.  The example has to be set from the top. If it’s not set from the top, then as Brandeis suggests, everyone becomes a breaker of the law.

In the end, it is political will and political will should be driven by the people who are most affected by it.

Accountability Now interview with Former Constitutional Court Justice, Richard Goldstone

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