Tuesday, October 20, 2009

South Africa and corruption

The writer for the Economist sounds optimistic that the great LaZooma will bring about change in the culture of corruption in the ANC. Me, looking at the way the new elite spend like drunken sailors and Zuma's penchant of jobs for pals (Mo Shaik for instance) it's true that a leopard never changes its spots. Dream on.

The Economist

Many South Africans are riveted by the soap-opera trial now under way in Johannesburg.

The cast includes a former chief of police and Interpol (Jackie Selebi), a convicted drugs smuggler and confessed liar (Glenn Agliotti), a murdered mining magnate (Brett Kebble), a multi-millionaire convicted fraudster (Billy Rautenbach), and no fewer than two former directors of prosecution, all accusing each other of spectacular bribery and corruption. But the case also has gloomier implications. For it puts a spotlight on one of South Africa’s gravest problems: rampant corruption, particularly in government.

At times it feels as if almost everyone in a position of power or influence is on the take. Police openly invite errant motorists to grease their palms rather than pay a larger official fine. Criminal files often disappear from court, scuppering the trial, on payment of a bribe. Many public contracts are secured by kickbacks. Welfare benefits provide a rich source of pickings for dodgy officials. Standards of public auditing are abysmal; every year huge sums of public money are unaccounted for.

Some miscreants do get caught. In the past few months the spokesman of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the head of South African Airways, the vice-chancellor of a university in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the head of the national freight-rail service, the deputy head of the Land Bank (a leading provider of farm credits), the head of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and the environment ministry’s director-general—to name but a few—have been suspended, fired or forced to step down amid allegations of financial skulduggery.

The Public Service Commission, an independent watchdog, reported last month that government employees stole nearly 22m rand ($3m) from the state in 2007-2008. The national auditor-general found that between 2005 and 2007 more than 2,000 public officials and their relatives were awarded public tenders worth 540m rand through companies with which they had links. Polls show that half of South Africans think corruption is widespread among elected officials and public servants. The country’s vice-president, Kgalema Motlanthe, admits that at every level of government the scourge is “far worse than anyone imagines”.

On the campaign trail, Jacob Zuma, now president, repeatedly pledged to root out corruption once in power. “It won’t be like it was before,” he promised. On his watch, officials benefiting from state tenders should expect severe censure. Many scoffed. How could a man who had himself faced corruption charges, before being let off on a technicality, be taken seriously?

Not for the first time since his inauguration in May, the president may surprise the sceptics. In the top echelons of government, a new mood of intolerance of corruption is perceptible. Ministerial speeches are full of it. Even if it is too soon to assess the results, the fact of it being talked about so openly marks a change. Heads are beginning to roll. The ANC’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, recently claimed that more bureaucrats had been suspended for alleged corruption in the first 100 days of Mr Zuma’s presidency than during the entire ten-year reign of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, though no figures have yet been produced to support this.

Moreover, instead of being just slapped on the wrist, the guilty are beginning to be threatened with criminal charges. New rules are being drawn up to bring greater openness into public tendering. Under a draft bill, politicians and civil servants would be barred from holding jobs in companies involved in public bodies or seeking business with them. On leaving office, they would also be banned for at least a year from joining any company tendering for public contracts.

Despite the perceptions of its own people, South Africa is not one of the continent’s most corrupt countries. Last year Transparency International, a Berlin-based watchdog, ranked it fourth-cleanest of Africa’s 53 countries and 54th out of the 180 countries it judges worldwide. But most South Africans do not want to be measured against a third-world yardstick; in business circles, especially, they have the outlook and culture of the rich world. So they hope Mr Zuma is sincere in his pledge to rid the country of what his trade-union allies call “a cancer eating away at the fabric of society”. It is early days. But if South Africa’s president can shed his controversial past and clean things up, it will be an astounding achievement.

Hat tip: Black Coffee

1 Opinion(s):

AMB said...

Puhleeze - If Zuma really wanted to stop corruption he would change the laws, eg. the tender process where everyone who knows someone gets awarded the tenders instead of established companies (usually white owned). These tender winners then either run away with the money or they in turn hire the established firms to clean up their mess - still making a profit to boot. He could also start putting people in jail instead of rewarding them with golden handshakes to leave. It's not rocket science. To talk about it achieves nothing!