2013: The year we say NO to corruption


If you happen to be stuck in traffic around Plein Street in Cape Town this week, you may notice the palpable pulse in the air – a distinct change of season. Red carpets are suddenly unavailable for hire. Milliner’s shops, which apparently still exist, have been emptied of their most glittering and be-feathered wares. And many of us are still weighing up matters of national importance against matters of the heart as we decide whether to spend Valentine’s Day evening in romantic company or with president Zuma as he delivers the 2013 State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The coming of the so-called silly season also rings in lots of reflection about the year that has past, and the irrepressible urge to construct a compelling collage of our big plans, strategic priorities, and new projects for the year ahead.

President Zuma has already had the opportunity to begin doing so during his January 8th statement, albeit within the context of the ANC. This year, he observed, marks the hundredth year since the promulgation of the 1913 Land Act, 65 years since the formal commencement of the apartheid system, 60 years since the Bantu Education Act, and 50 years since the Rivonia Trial. Thirty years have passed since the founding of the UDF, and 20 years since the assassination of Chris Hani.

The January 8th statement also contained forward-looking targets: within the ANC, the next ten years will be ‘the decade of the cadre’, and in the coming five the party will focus on expanding its ‘comprehensive political school system’. In government, the long-awaited National Health Insurance (NHI) Fund will be introduced in one year. And 2013 will be the year of ‘unity in action towards socioeconomic freedom’.

Some parallels are of course to be expected in the national roadmap that emerges in the SONA. Projects and programmes that give life to the recommendations of the National Development Plan (NDP) are likely features. So too are updates on the substantial infrastructure growth projects announced at this time last year, as well as some iteration of the stalled youth wage subsidy. We can only hope to see a hint of the green economy innovations that were lauded in the 2011 SONA.

So it’s the year that we launch forward to 2030 with the NDP. Another year of waiting for NHI. A year of unity in action towards socioeconomic freedom. But my calendar says it’s the year that South Africans collectively refuse to look past any further corruption scandals, signals of financial maladministration and mismanagement, and opaque dealings between business, government and political parties. Truly, our patience ends now.

Over the course of 2012, we were regularly confronted with damning headline stories – learners without textbooks because of supply change mismanagement and dodgy tenders, public works contracts used to fund luxury cars. R320-million was spent on government consulting contracts where motivations for not following competitive bidding processes were not documented, or lacked evidence.

And should you pause to think that corruption, misconduct and abuse of state funds is only a concern of the whinging middle class – let me stop you right there. The Auditor-General’s (AG) report on the national audit outcomes for 2010-2011 records, for example, an under-spend of R736-million by the Department of Public Works – which builds our roads, schools, hospitals and clinics. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform racked up around R73.4-million in ‘fruitless and wasteful expenditure’. And Home Affairs, where we all queue to register our births and deaths, and hope for an ID document that allows us to go to school, take up employment, apply for a home loan and register for a pension: R687-million in unauthorised over-spending, R334-million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure and R66.8-million in material losses.

The AG’s office – which I believe deserves far more public support – also conducted detailed audits on 247 infrastructure delivery projects at provincial health and education departments in 2011, valued at R6 635-billion from the national purse. The results, which warranted the AG’s call for ‘urgent corrective action from government’: in two out of five projects (43%), departments deviated from prescribed procurement legislation; 70% of projects were not completed on time; many contracts were awarded to unregistered or under-qualified service providers; contract amounts exceeded approved budgets, resulting in budgets increased by up to 864%; work completed was substandard; and there was widespread termination of contracts, yet sureties for defaulting service providers were often waived or reduced.

And while we try to imagine the effect that this has, for example, on school-goers in rural South African communities, we also have to gaze on the snappy red undersoles of Minister Dina Pule’s Leboutins. The public servants in the proverbial cockpit of this SAA flight that we call home earn salaries far beyond the wildest dreams of most South Africans, not to mention their counterparts in other countries. In 2012, president Zuma’s take-home of R2 622 561 ranked him among the top ten highest-paid heads of state in the world, ahead of David Cameron, Angela Merkel or François Hollande, following the latter’s 30% pay cut. Salaries of ministers and members of parliament (MPs) are also comparatively high. For 2011/2012, the Speaker in the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces each earned more than R2.2 million, ministers R1.9 million and Premiers close to R1.8 million.

The erosive effect of corruption on our confidence in government and political leadership should not be under-estimated. Research actually suggests that a majority of South Africans have not been party to a direct, corrupt transaction. Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime survey found that in 2011, only 4.5% of participating households reported having been directly solicited for a gift, bribe or favour by a government official in exchange for a service, most often in the form of a bribe to a traffic or police officer. The Public Service Commission (PSC) reports 106 799 calls to the National Anti-Corruption Hotline (NACH) between 2004 and 2010, which is just about 50 calls a day for 6 years – it could be more, right?

But with or without a direct experience of a transaction of this kind, the belief that corruption is rife has become widespread. According to the findings of the 2012 Reconciliation Barometer survey, which I manage, one in three South Africans (32%) believe our leaders can’t be trusted to do what’s right most of the time. Forty-four percent (44%) say they’ve seen corruption happening in their own community, and only 39% think government is doing enough to combat it.

Statements made by South Africans interviewed in Durban, Mount Frere and Umtata  during a complimentary qualitative study help illustrate these statistics: ‘corruption threatens the most because parliament is full of criminals’; ‘money is allocated to [ministers] but they never use it’; ‘tenders are issued to people who are connected’; ‘before I could be employed I have to bribe first’; and ‘ministers’ wives are selling drugs and nothing is happening to them’.

Afrobarometer survey results also show a sizeable jump in the percentage of South Africans who believe corruption to be prevalent in a number of different departments and institutions. While 17% believed all or most officials within the presidency were corrupt in 2008, this increased to 35% in 2011. Similar increases were evident in the belief of corruption among most/all MP’s (25% to 40%), government officials (41% to 50%), and local government councillors (35% to 51%).

These are dramatic findings. And in a deeply unequal and exclusive society, the belief that government is not adequately delivering on crucial services, that funds from a tightly-balanced national budget are being pilfered and wasted, and that our presiding political elites still take home tide pay packets, are a toxic mix.

Last year, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu made a comment that stayed with me: he said, ‘one day, the anger of those who are deprived will overwhelm all of us’. Certainly, former leaders in many of the Arab Spring states could attest to this. But these days we aren’t so much in the habit of listening to Tutu’s strong words as we should. So if you prefer to take a Hollywood celebrity tip, let Anne Hathaway sing to you from the recent remake of the French Revolution classic Les Misérables – ‘something’s gotta happen now or something’s gonna give’.

The good news for 2013 is that some crucial work has already started, including the Right2Know and Corruption Watch campaigns, both of which appear to span historic race and class divides, and offer the possibility of new kinds of advocacy coalitions. The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum has also launched an interfaith Call to End Corruption campaign. The offices of both the Public Protector and the AG have proved effective watchdogs, despite issues such as perennial under-funding, limited enforcement power and of course, resistance from some of those who come under their scrutiny.

Let’s make 2013 the year we support these initiatives and strong institutions, the year we start our own campaigns, and the year we simply refuse to accept corruption any longer.

Kate Lefko-Everett is Senior Project Leader for the Reconciliation Barometer at the
Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. You can follow her on Twitter on @opinionkate and @SABarometer. A version of this article appeared in the Daily Maverick.

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