Picture: 123RF/Maryna Pleshkun
Picture: 123RF/Maryna Pleshkun

In January, Transparency International released the results for the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks 180 countries by their perceived level of corruption, according to experts and business people. The index scores countries out of 100.

The results show that SA ranks 73rd out of the 180.

Contrary to the thinking of Hamlet’s Marcellus, the 2018 index shows that there is very little rotten in the state of Denmark, as Denmark was identified as the least corrupt nation globally, scoring 88 out of 100. The remaining top-scoring countries identified for 2018 are New Zealand — 87, Finland — 85, Singapore — 85 and Sweden — 85.

The worst-five scoring countries identified are Somalia — 10, Syria — 13, South Sudan — 13, Yemen — 14 and North Korea — 14. SA scored 43 out of 100 in the 2018 CPI, unchanged from our 2017 score and down two points from our score of 45 in 2016. SA obtained the ninth-best score by an African nation.

When releasing the index results, Transparency International reflected on a continued failure by most countries globally to control corruption, which is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world.

Patricia Moreira, the MD of Transparency International, stated that many democratic institutions are under threat across the globe, often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies and more needs to be done to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights.

In 2018, law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, in collaboration with the Institute for Statecraft (a UK-based institute which aims to help improve governance and statecraft in the public sector globally), published a research report covering the anticorruption approaches of countries ranked at the top by Transparency International. The report looked at the 26 top ranked countries to determine what effective measures are being used to curb corruption.

The research report offers insights that could guide national leaders — both in the private and public sector — into making better decisions and implementing improved strategies to advance anticorruption efforts.

The research report found that the top 26 countries can attribute their high scores to political and economic environments that discourage corruption, as well as institutional characteristics that combat corruption. Examples of such characteristics include strong anticorruption legislation and judicial institutions, a national and collective integrity system, and civil liberties and freedom of speech.

SA interestingly demonstrates a number of these characteristics. The country has extensive anticorruption legislation, strong judicial institutions, as well as a constitution which grants and protects civil liberties and free speech.

It, however, falls short in effectively enforcing its anticorruption legislation and does not demonstrate a national and collective integrity system. SA is currently in the process of formalising a national anticorruption strategy. It is hoped that this strategy will develop a national and collective integrity system which promotes public and private accountability.

The process for the formalisation of the strategy has been ongoing since 2016. A copy of the strategy discussion document is available here

The research report found that only three of the top 26 countries actually have such a formal strategy in place. Reasons for this include countries having implicit strategies in place and a lack of pressure or need for a formal strategy. As a result, the research report found that the need for a anticorruption strategy is of greater importance to countries like SA with poor CPI scores.

While the research report identified the importance and benefit of low-scoring countries having a national strategy to curb corruption, it found that in order for an anticorruption effort to be successful it needs to be fostered and championed on a national level.

Specifically, a successful anticorruption effort needs a political champion; support from involved government ministries; a responsible unit with co-ordinating mechanisms and structures across government; external support from the private sector and civil society; efficient and swift prosecution processes; and greater focus on integration with multinational initiatives (eg antimoney laundering and tax controls).

Recent developments in SA have shown that some of these areas are being addressed. The recent appointment of advocate Shamila Batohi as the national director of public prosecutions at the National Prosecuting Authority will hopefully improve the enforcement of SA’s extensive anticorruption legislation and lead to more efficient prosecutions and fewer people thinking that crime pays.

Additionally, the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his state of the nation address that a new Investigating directorate within the National Prosecuting Authority will be set up to deal with serious corruption and associated offences, will hopefully lead to the formation of a proactive, efficient, effective and politically independent unit with co-ordinating mechanisms and structures across government.

The anticorruption narrative in SA remains in need of a champion on the national stage, who could drive and encourage support from the public and private sector alike.

SA has been fortunate in recent years to have had a number of strong civil society organisations and investigative journalists that have played an instrumental role in uncovering and curbing corruption. A number of the judicial commissions of inquiry relating to corruption can, in part, be attributed to the work performed by these organisations and groups. It is imperative that these organisations continue to operate and receive funding once commissions of inquiry are concluded.

The next few months of 2019 will be an interesting time for SA, particularly in relation to how the newly elected government chooses to approach the fight against corruption.

A key consideration for the private sector during these times is that it is as much the duty of the private sector as it is of the public sector to execute and enshrine a future national and collective integrity system.

Countries should require much more from the private sector, especially on a sector-by-sector basis, by promoting collective action and incorporating civil society and private sector involvement into a cohesive national anticorruption effort.

The very real consequences of neglect by the private sector when it comes to business ethics and anticorruption compliance play out daily during the various ongoing commissions of inquiry in SA.

• Vos and Keightley-Smith are with Norton Rose Fulbright