International Anti-Corruption Day
INTERNATIONAL ANTI-CORRUPTION DAY
On 9 December the world will mark International Anti-Corruption Day. The day comes just a few days after the publication by Transparency International of its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The bad news is that South Africa is now in 69th position - down five places since last year, and down 31 places since 2001.
Corruption has a corrosive effect on society because it undermines the core principle that government should work for the public interest rather than for the private interests of office-bearers. It penalises and disincentivises those who produce wealth and unfairly rewards the unproductive and parasitic. It distorts economic relationships and adds unnecessary expenses to transactions.
It is a simple truth of human nature that those who possess power will generally use it, overtly or covertly, sooner or later, to advance their personal or group interests. Corruption is essentially the abuse of power to obtain benefits to which one is not - or to which one should not be - entitled.
When we think of corruption, we often have in mind the transfer of bribes in brown paper envelopes to officials. However, corruption goes much further than this - and is often quite legal.
All individuals and groups that come into possession of the Gollum’s ring of power are equally inclined to abuse it for the illegitimate promotion of their own interests. Corruption can affect not only national leaders and politicians - but also the electorates who in modern democracies are the final possessors of power. Elections too often become auctions between parties bidding against one another to offer the voters more and more for less and less. The only way that governments can keep their promises is by borrowing - often beyond the capacity of their economies ever to repay the debt. This reality lies at the root of the debt crises currently being experienced by many Western democracies.
Governments that grant themselves lavish benefits and perks are also abusing power to obtain benefits to which they should not by any objective standard be entitled. Company executives and board members who manipulate untransparent remuneration systems to award themselves excessive payments are also behaving corruptly - even though their actions may be legal.
As we have seen in the wake of Marikana, trade unions can also misuse their power to secure wage increases that bear no relationship to increases in productivity. Such actions often compromise the viability of the companies involved, discourage investment and lead to job losses.
Those who wield power in modern states are often the bureaucrats. They are also susceptible to the corrupting influence of the Gollum’s ring of power. According to the SA Institute of Race Relations public service salaries are now 40% higher than those in private sector - and account for more than 10% of GDP - one of the highest percentages in the world. During the past five years expenditure on public service salaries has increased by 59.5% to R336 billion. Once again, those with power are using it to award themselves benefits that bear no relationship to their actual contribution to society.
Corruption is intimately linked to power. As Lord Acton put it: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It is for this reason that the best constitutional systems effectively limit the power of government and establish laws and conventions that carefully monitor and regulate the behaviour of those to whom power has been entrusted.
We have such conventions in South Africa. We have an excellent Constitution that separates power into an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. We have Chapter IX institutions that are empowered to monitor government behaviour and to ensure that it complies with constitutional standards. We have a National Prosecuting Authority that is meant to prosecute those guilty of crimes - and particularly those who are guilty of corruption. Unfortunately, the system is not working - and hence the precipitous decline in our Transparency International rating.
- Our political parties knowingly elect leaders suspected of corruption;
- Our Parliament does not play its oversight role in respect of the blatantly corrupt behaviour of some members of the executive. Many of its own members have been implicated in corrupt activities;
- Our National Prosecuting Authority has been systematically abused by government. A former National Director of impeccable character was fired because he refused to obey unconstitutional instructions from political leaders. There is gross interference in the prosecuting process;
- The Directorate of Special Operations - which used to provide the NPA with an effective and independent capability to investigate serious crimes, including corruption, has been abolished;
- A person, convicted of corruption, is released from prison on the flimsiest and most transparent pretext of “medical parole”;
- We implement BBBEE policies that invite corruption because tenders are routinely awarded on the basis of race and political connection rather than on price, quality and time of delivery;
- Senior members of the ruling elite and their families have become fabulously rich through BBBEE deals, frequently simply because of their political connections.
These are among the reasons why our corruption rating has declined so seriously during recent years. If we wish to reverse the trend we will need to ensure that our systems function as they were intended to function:
- We must re-establish an independent and professional unit that will be able to investigate allegations of corruption fearlessly, effectively and independently;
- The reputation of the NPA must be restored so that it will once again be able to prosecute those charged with corruption fairly and impartially;
- Our Parliament must be able to play its proper oversight role over the activities of the executive;
- Our electorate must hold politicians to account by refusing to vote for people who are implicated in corruption; and
- We must all be guided by the vision in the founding provisions of our Constitution of a government that is accountable, responsive and open.
Ultimately the struggle against corruption is the responsibility of all citizens. In our constitutional democracy, power rests in our hands. We must use it to ensure that our elected representatives take effective action to combat corruption - and that power is not abused for personal gain.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation