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Perceptions of public sector corruption in SA — graphically highlighted in the Zondo commission report on state capture — have deteriorated with the country slipping one point in global rankings.

Global perceptions of public sector corruption play an important part in investment decisions because corruption by organs of state affect how lucrative government tenders are awarded, and companies are closely watched by their governments to stamp out corporate bribery and corruption.

President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power on an anti-corruption platform and steps have been taken to strengthen law enforcement agencies.

The 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of international organisation Transparency International released on Tuesday shows that SA ranked 43 — the average score — on a scale of 0 to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. A total of 180 countries were evaluated using data from 13 external sources reflecting the views of country experts and surveys of businesspeople.

Top of the list was Denmark (90) followed by Finland and New Zealand, both with 87, while at the bottom was Somalia (12), preceded by Syria and South Sudan, both with 13.

Sub-Saharan Africa, the lowest performing region, scored 32 with Seychelles (70) and Botswana (60) in the lead.

The global average of 43 has remained the same for 11 years running.

The survey showed that 124 countries have stagnant corruption levels while the number of countries in decline (31) has increased and 25 countries improved. Most countries at the bottom of the index are currently experiencing armed conflict or have recently done so and Transparency International noted that corruption and conflict feed each other.

The global average of 43 indicates that more than two thirds of countries score below 50 and thus have a serious problem with corruption, and most countries have made little to no progress in tackling corruption in more than 10 years.  

SA corruption watchdog Corruption Watch, the local chapter of Transparency International, said in a statement that the result for SA was a “discouraging story”.

“SA has barely shifted position on the CPI over the 11 years that Corruption Watch has been tracking its progress. Now ranked at 43, the country is back where it started in 2012, with very little upward movement over the past decade.

“While SA may have scored above the regional average score, public sector corruption remains a serious — if not endemic — problem, underscored by a series of corruption scandals involving the former and incumbent presidents, which remain doggedly unresolved.

“It is important to note, however, that the CPI measures perceptions of corruption, and not actual corruption. In this regard, perceptions may differ from the current reality in SA, where there has been some forward momentum by law enforcement agencies in curbing and combating corruption.” 

Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh said that the 2022 report “paints a disturbing picture of an increasingly dangerous world, highlighting the link between corruption and conflict globally, and the threat that corruption poses to peace and security”.   

“The fact that SA has slipped a point at a time when there appears to be some momentum in bringing the corrupt to book, following the findings of the Zondo commission reports, is particularly galling. It is hardly comforting that we have leaders paying lip service to the anti-corruption agenda in an environment that is not just hostile but extremely dangerous for whistle-blowers and those activists seeking to address the huge inequality and injustices wrought by corruption.”

Singh said that some of the recommendations of the Zondo commission were a step in the right direction towards facing the country’s corruption challenges head on.

“There is an acknowledgment both in the recommendations of the Zondo commission and in the president’s response that SA’s anti-corruption architecture, particularly when it comes to enforcement, requires an overhaul.”   

He said there had also been some encouraging progress in advancing implementation of the national anti-corruption strategy with the appointment towards the end of 2022 of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council (NACAC) to drive the process forward. 

“The appointment of the NACAC gives a faint glimmer of hope at a time when people see very little to be hopeful about,” said Singh. “The NACAC represents a real possibility of ensuring that there is movement in finally securing the anti-corruption measures that the country so desperately needs.”

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