SA must clean out corruption or remain in a state of arrested development
High levels of corruption not only cost the economy and harm the vulnerable but threaten democracy itself
As SA joins the world to celebrate International Anti-Corruption Day today, it is probably an opportune time to take stock and see how far we have come.
This year’s UN theme is, “United Against Corruption: Building a Culture of Accountability for Sustainable Development”. It requires of us to take concrete action against corruption.
“United against corruption”, would mean that combating corruption successfully requires strong leadership from the government, business, labour and civil society.
As I think of the plight of those on the receiving end of corruption and reflect on the increased levels of corruption in SA, according to a Transparency International survey, I would argue that there is not much to celebrate. High corruption levels frustrate the government’s ability to function optimally and cripple its ability to deliver on its agenda as a developmental state.
Reforming the public administration requires changing the mindset of public servants but also rooting out rotten elements within the system.
We have several law enforcement agencies in SA that are tough enough to put the fear of God into anyone, yet people still do wrong things.
Unless we intensify the embedding of constitutional values and principles to govern people’s behaviours and actions, the fight against corruption will be a long journey.
The common causes of corruption are political and economic, professional ethics, morality and, of course, bad habits. It is no mistake that the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 calls for tackling the social dimensions of corruption by focusing on values, through education.
Much as it is our constitutional responsibility to promote constitutional values and principles, the primary inception of enshrining these values and principles starts at home.
Corruption is a form of dishonesty that is punishable by law. It often involves both public and private sector participants. However, the loudest and probably only noise we hear at times is that the government is corrupt.
The economic cost of corruption is catastrophic. Studies conducted on the economic cost of corruption in Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt have revealed staggering numbers.
It was therefore not surprising when President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the Financial Times Africa summit in London and dropped the bombshell that corruption in SA has cost the country more than R500bn. In fact, some scholars contend that the figures could be much higher. We are going nowhere slowly.
As we reflect on the efforts that have been made in fighting this cancer of corruption, we must also recommit ourselves to the struggle to build a culture of accountability for sustainable development.
In SA corruption has had terrible consequences on the poor. It collapsed basic services, access to funding, infrastructure development and job creation. It has caused hunger and resulted in near-death experiences, with hospitals running out of medication and drips, to mention but a few.
Evidently, corruption hinders investment, both domestic and foreign; reduces growth; restricts trade; distorts the size and composition of government expenditure; weakens the financial system; and strengthens the underground economy. The negative effects of corruption on investment and growth similarly worsen poverty and erode the tax base, further undermining the quality of public services.
The costs of corruption are not only financial, they are also sociopolitical. At a deeper level, corruption threatens our very democracy. It erodes trust in state institutions, which in turn weakens the state’s capacity to fight corruption. A dangerous by-product of the erosion of trust in the state is increasing crime.
Reforming the public administration requires changing the mindset of public servants but also rooting out rotten elements within the system. Confidence in the justice system depends on the consistency with which the law is applied.
People want results, not rhetoric any more. Recent high-profile arrests by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have started the process of renewing SA's faith in the rule of law.
Those in positions of power who commit acts of corruption, influenced by greed and disregard for the community in which they serve, are robbing the poorest of the poor and should face the full might of the law.
Justice must be seen to be done to address the relational dimensions of public confidence and legitimacy. Credibility and legitimacy are key in our young democracy.
As the custodian of good governance, we will stop at nothing to instil and protect these constitutional values and principles that are enshrined in the constitution.
Political will is essential to combat corruption. This makes it even more important that the government acts to tackle the high levels of corruption in its ranks. Equally, individuals in civil society must also not only ask what their country can do for them. Otherwise, we will remain a perpetual state of arrested development.
• Sizani, an advocate, chairs the Public Service Commission. He writes in his personal capacity.