Opinion

Political will is critical if the fight against corruption is to gain ground

The creation of an integrity commission deserves urgent support

24 June 2018 - 00:00 By UNATHI MPHENDU and NATASJA HOLTZHAUSEN

The growing number of allegations of corrupt activities in our society continue to frustrate most citizens in South Africa. One cannot blame anyone for labelling these acts of corruption systemic.
Realistic solutions are sought to address this challenge. The least that can be done is to encourage those who propose interventions to manage this malfeasance.
An individual who deserves support is Advocate Paul Hoffman, who is passionate about ensuring that persons be held accountable for their actions. He is also well-versed in constitutional matters.
Hoffman has been putting pressure on the National Assembly's constitutional review committee to consider establishing an integrity commission.
The proposed institution's mandate would be to prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute corruption.
The proposal for an integrity commission is submitted as an intervention intended to address South Africa's deplorable record in decisively managing allegations of corruption.
Hoffman's proposal is based on the outcome of a Constitutional Court judgment that pronounced, during the Glenister vs President of the Republic of South Africa and Others case, that South Africa requires a specialised unit that is able to function independently, with adequate resources and trained, full-time staff.The need for such a unit is even more evident given widespread assertions that existing anticorruption agencies such as the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit and the NPAare either manipulated, sluggish or deliberately under-resourced to perform well below the citizenry's needs and expectations.
Ongoing allegations of corrupt activities linked to high-profile individuals within both the private and public sectors, including the poor response by certain anticorruption agencies, has resulted in pessimism about any recommended anticorruption reforms.
This is leading to lethargy instead of accelerated efforts to consider the feasibility of introducing a centralised new anticorruption agency.
Effective performance by anticorruption agencies rests on a critical element for success: political will. Unfortunately, the National Assembly constitutional review committee dismissed this idea.
One can understand the cautious reservations of the constitutional review committee when it comes to advancing the idea of a centralised integrity commission, because it is difficult for politicians to manipulate the multi-agency approach.
One can imagine the dire consequences if a centralised agency were "captured".
But the idea of a centralised anticorruption unit in South Africa is not going to be wished away because it will unquestionably resurface, especially if one takes cognisance of the fact that it is strongly recommended by certain international anticorruption protocols.
Developing states such as Botswana and Georgia have managed to keep corruption to low levels, proving that anticorruption reforms can work if complemented by strong political will. However, fighting corruption goes beyond speeches, conferences and strategies.All political principals' annual performance plans should include realistic annual targets of the actions taken to address allegations of corruption within respective jurisdictions. Further demand can be placed on political principals to commit resources to decisively manage allegations of corruption.
Furthermore, politicians should commit to being exemplary while occupying public office and accept that action will be taken against them for any acts of unethical conduct.
One of the frequently posed questions is: how much faith can one have in politicians to address malfeasance?
Few political leaders who benefit from corrupt practices will implement reforms because these would minimise their opportunities.
Politicians might find it difficult to resist the "carrots" because of fear of being unable to maintain a certain quality of life after their term has ended.
It has to be ensured that ethical conduct is the expected behaviour for someone elected to office.
Denmark is a state consistently commended for its ethical position. The primary reason attributed to this attitude, as international studies show, is that the Danes have a very high degree of confidence in each other, not just in their processes.This is perhaps an aspect neglected among South Africans.
Citizens should be encouraged to take individual responsibility to fight corruption rather than simply develop rules that must be implemented by outside institutions.
There is some optimism regarding the long-overdue national anticorruption strategy. Most importantly, ordinary citizens will have an opportunity to participate in this process.
The first pillar of the proposed strategy deals with increased protection of whistleblowers. Several South Africans have lost their lives because of their commitment to ethical behaviour.
Corrupt activities cannot be managed if persons who disclose alleged wrongdoing are not provided with safe avenues through which to make these disclosures. Those that disclose wrongdoing in good faith must be protected appropriately, and blowing the whistle should not be perceived as a disloyal act.
In short, the critical elements of success in the fight against corruption are political will accompanied by realistic annual targets, a strong citizens' voice and protection of whistleblowers.
• Mphendu is deputy director: integrity management in the Gauteng office of the premier. Holtzhausen is a lecturer at the School of Public Management and Administration at the University of Pretoria.

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