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Four steps to stopping corruption dead in its tracks in SA

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Four steps to stopping corruption dead in its tracks in SA

11th June 2021

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As South Africans face up to the challenge of the next wave of the Covid pandemic, accompanying waves of corruption are once again sweeping the country, with more PPE scandals coming to light, and funds intended to alleviate suffering and poverty vaporising into the pockets of a corrupt few. It begs the question: ‘What, if anything, can counter corruption in our country?’ Paul Hoffman, member of anti-corruption organisation Accountability Now and author of Countering the Corrupt, believes it is still possible to stop the culture of corruption from becoming inevitably entrenched in our society, through several key steps, starting with the establishment of an integrity commission.

1. An Integrity Commission

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The establishment of an independent, effective and efficient anti-corruption machinery of state, by a government dedicated to fighting corruption with fully committed political will is essential.  Rulings arising from a series of court cases initiated by Gauteng businessman Hugh ‘Bob’ Glenister, have spawned the notion that the failure to take appropriate measures to combat corruption is a violation of human rights in South Africa. If one considers the effect of corruption on the ability of the state to provide housing, education, health care and social security, this seems obvious.

The binding conclusions reached in the Glenister cases were aimed at  fighting corruption in an effective and efficient way. The court noted that specialisation, training, independence, resources and security of tenure of office, were all essential elements of such an agency.

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Considering these main attributes of an anti-corruption entity, one can use the  acronym “STIRS” to remember the key criteria:

  • Specialised - an entity that is dedicated to dealing with corruption and corruption only. The corrupt are a wily lot who are forever seeking new ways of relieving the unwary of assets and funds. It is a full-time job to keep up with and counter the innovative thinking of the corrupt, hence the need for specialisation. Some call this feature an entity dedicated to anti-corruption work to the exclusion of all other types of crime-busting.
  • Trained - refers to the state of readiness and expertise of corruption-busters to do their work properly.
  • Independent - the requirement that the entity be above political influence and interference from the powerful, whether in government or in corrupt networks, so that it can function without fear, favour or prejudice.
  • Resourced – the provision of sufficient resources, and the provision of which is guaranteed, to enable the entity to do its work.
  • Secure – secure tenure of office is required so that unpopular decisions made do not turn out to be career threatening or limiting.

It is strongly argued that the establishment of an Integrity Commission under Chapter Nine of our Constitution, is the best way to convert  the judicial decision-making on STIRS into a lived reality of governance.

Jaded South Africans may refer to the Scorpions and later the Hawks as having been unable to fight corruption. The Hawks are not adequately independent to be an efficient anti-corruption busting unit in the legislative  framework and operational regime contemplated by the scheme of legislation passed to give effect to the resolution of the ANC at Polokwane in 2007. This resolution called for the urgent dissolution of the Scorpions, and their replacement with what became the Hawks. The motivation for this was far from pure – the Scorpions were investigating far too many well-connected people. 

If the STIRS criteria were applied to an anti-corruption entity, it would be empowered to operate without fear of the powerful and could withstand political interference.

By fashioning the STIRS criteria, the Constitutional Court  has developed the jurisprudence concerning combating corruption in a way that holds lessons for the entire world. The ‘strong institutions’ referred to in the UN Sustainable Development Goals depend on STIRS compliance to be effective.

2. Political Will

Activism against corruption can take many forms. No matter how many anti-corruption laws, protocols or institutions there are, there has to be political will to make a positive difference in the struggle against the corrupt. Without the will, and due to the failure to address the issues of corruption in a proactive, constructive manner, there would be no adverse consequences for acting in a corrupt manner.

3. Dealing with crosscutting corruption issues

In a review on corruption in South Africa published in 2006, several crosscutting issues  around the phenomenon of corruption were identified. These included the private funding of political parties, lack of legislation to regulate the transition of public sector employees to the private sector, the lack of sanctions in SA against the bribing of foreign officials by local business people, the lack of coordination and roles between the various anti-corruption bodies, the need to strengthen the capacity and independence of the anti-corruption bodies, and lastly the need to promote access to information as well as to protect and reward whistleblowers. In not dealing with these issues, anti-corruption efforts may be stymied.

4. Active citizenry in civil society

The culture of corruption that infects the world can only be countered effectively if a critical mass of people are prepared to ask the difficult questions and to lobby for strong institutions of state to combat the corrupt. Civil society needs to participate and to lead the charge, by pushing for remedial change in legislation, regulatory changes and better leadership that will result in corruption-busting institutions that are STIRS compliant. Civil society needs to take an active interest in government to drive change. Nothing concentrates the minds of politicians better than the fear of losing public support, especially at the polls.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Written by Paul Hoffman SC, Director, Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, Campaigning as Accountability Now

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