Turning the Tide? Consideration of Efforts to Counter Corruption in the Department of Correctional Services

9th December 2009 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

Since the new administration took office in April this year government Ministries have been vocal about stopping corruption by civil servants and elected officials. In November this year the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services received a report from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) detailing corruption at a senior level which the Committee described as ‘horrific'.

Corruption is not new to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). The latest report was preceded by the findings of the Jali Commission and a statement by the Auditor-General in 2002 that ‘corruption is rampant in the DCS.' The difference between those reports and that of the SIU is that this report implicates senior officials from the department in apparently rampant corruption. Even though there have been media reports of the allegedly corrupt practices of senior officials since 2005, this is the first time the allegations have been confirmed, based on an intensive three year investigation by the SIU.

In terms of the SIU Act (74 of 1996), the SIU has a mandate to:

........investigat[e] serious malpractices or maladministration in connection with the administration of State institutions, State assets and public money as well as any
conduct which may seriously harm the interests of the public, and for the
establishment of Special Tribunals so as to adjudicate upon civil matters emanating
from investigations by Special Investigating Units; and to provide for matters
incidental thereto.

The DCS approached the SIU in 2002 after the Jali Commission alleged that the department was corrupt. After three years of investigations, the SIU found that some officials of the department had, inter alia defrauded the medical aid scheme and these individuals were subsequently given disciplinary hearings and one was dismissed. In March 2006 the SIU's agreement with the DCS was renewed. In this second period the SIU was tasked to specifically investigate further possible financial losses as a result of corrupt activities in the department. In his report to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services on 17 November 2009, the current Head of the SIU, Willie Hofmeyer reported that the SIU was asked by DCS to investigate:

* Procurement processes in the department
* Asset management at the twelve farms at correctional centres
* Management of pharmacies at correctional centres.
* Inadequate corruption prevention systems
* Lack of effective monitoring and evaluation systems

The SIU were asked to investigate these matters in order to ensure that employees complied with the departmental procedures when approving contracts. They were also asked to advise the Department on how farms and other assets belonging or affiliated to the department should be managed; on rooting out corruption in the department and to advise the department on how it can ensure that all systems and anti-corruption strategies put in place by the department are effective.

In the report, which has since been passed on to the Nation Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Head of the SIU, Willie Hofmeyer explicitly describes the way in which services providers allegedly colluded with senior officials to secure contracts for services. The SIU developed and used a ‘Red Flag Database Tool' that integrates State databases and can red flag irregularities by potential service providers and department officials. The database, which was piloted at the Pretoria Central Correctional Centre found that:

* Service providers, together with senior officials were involved in the drafting of requirements for the services to be tendered for
* The period for the submission of tenders were, at times reduced without reason
* Companies that did not meet the minimum requirement of having been in existence for five years were awarded contracts
* Service providers were paid before they had completed the tasks required
* In at least two cases the budget set for a tender had been exceeded
* Invoices had been duplicated-which could mean that some invoices were paid more than once
* Bribes were paid to senior officials to manipulate the awarding of contracts

The response from the Department has been muted. Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has said she will only respond to the report after the NPA has taken a decision on whether or not to prosecute as the matter is currently sub judice. However the Minister did suspend the department's National Commissioner and Acting Financial Officer for alleged financial irregularities earlier this year.

Hofmeyer recommended several strategies that should be followed to reduce corruption in the DCS. These have also been outlined by the DCS in the anti-corruption strategy and include:

* The Vetting of service providers and potential staff by the department
* Cooperation between departments, departmental investigating unit
* Close co-operation with law enforcement agencies
* Risk Management

The SIU has made an important contribution to uncovering corruption in the department, and to establishing systems to detect corruption in the future. It is however vital that the Department implements internal measures to prevent and detect corrupt practices in the future. Lukas Mutiningh of the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative argues that such internal measures also need to be able to detect and counter corruption at the level of senior management. He also argued in a paper titled Investigating prison corruption that ‘the closed nature of prisons and general marginalization from the public eye and political discourse do not assist in making prisons more transparent.'Transparency in such an environment should not only be implemented but it is an imperative.

Cabinet has announced the establishment of yet another anti-corruption ‘body'-the Anti-corruption Inter-Ministerial Committee - that will only be releasing their plan of action in January 2010. Let us hope that the apparent ‘political will' from the highest level of government to deal with corruption will filter down to departmental level and result in effective strategies to curb practices such as those reported by the SIU in the Department of Correctional Services.

Written by: Tizina Ramagaga, is a junior researcher in the Crime Justice and Politics Programme, ISS Pretoria