South Africa needs to improve its business integrity to eliminate corrupt practices, Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) president Naren Bhojaram said during a Cesa Gauteng presidential visit to Johannesburg in June.
Global coalition against corruption Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index, which scored countries on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to ten (very clean) for business integrity, showed that Botswana scored 6.1, Namibia 4.4 and South Africa 4.1, down from its 4.5 rating in 2010.
The vast majority of the 183 countries and territories assessed scored below five.
New Zealand was ranked the least corrupt with a score of 9.5 and North Korea the most corrupt with a score of 1.
“If the corruption perception indexes from 2009 to 2011 are compared, it is evident that every African country has slid backwards with regard to business ethics.
“That is seriously worrying, as international investors are looking at those comparisons when considering investing in South Africa,” noted Bhojaram.
Reflecting on the current state of corrupt activities in South Africa’s business sector, Bhojaram stated that many government departments had inexperienced tender and bid-evaluation committees, which contributed to the problem.
“If you have inexperienced tender and bid-evaluation committees, important decisions about development are made outside those committees, owing to influences from political structures that are not supposed to be involved in making those decisions,” he noted.
Bhojaram stressed that, at present, government structures were not conducive to attracting experienced engineers – hence, the prominent political influence in the committees.
Nevertheless, he pointed out that there were successful local government departments that performed well because they had experienced tender and bid-evaluation structures in place, which were not susceptible to outside influence.
Meanwhile, Bhojaram urged Cesa members to contribute to the improvement of South Africa’s business integrity by remaining unquestionably ethical.
He stressed that members should deal with potential client pressures and adhere to business ethics, confront conflicts of interest between clients and engineers, make use of the corruption hotline or parent companies for guidance, and stand firm against collusion as well as bribery.
Bhojaram added that every South African has his or her own ethical balance and, even though businesses have integrity balancing systems in place, individual ethical balances also play a big role in decision-making processes.
“As a result of different backgrounds and cultures, we all have different ethical balances and can, therefore, be trapped by our own reasoning processes. South Africa needs to accept this and try to align these internal balances with formal integrity systems in helping to combat fraud and corruption.”
He urged Cesa members to embrace the industry body’s business-integrity management system, which is based on the International Federation of Consulting Engineers’ guidelines, and make use of its whistle-blowing scheme to alert the association to malpractice in the consulting engineering sector.
Further, the industry body added that it was satisfied with the Preferential Procurement Regulations that had come into effect in December 2011.
However, Bhojaram expressed concern over the fact that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan exempted State-owned enter- prises (SOEs) from complying with the regulations.
“If the regulations are efficient, why should SOEs be exempted? We would like to see a return to [reason]. The private sector is compelled to abide by these regulations, but SOEs do not have to satisfy government’s regulations with regard to transformation,” he stated.
He emphasised that parastatals should comply with legislation, not because their own systems are not good, but because there needs to be uniformity in procurement in the industry.
The industry body also commended the adoption of the New Growth Path, as well as the accord signed between government, labour, civil society and business in 2011 to create 300 000 green jobs.
Bhojaram stated, however, that these plans needed to be put into action.
He suggested that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel urgently consider giving preference to the local consulting engineering sector to ensure a better platform for job creation and attracting more young people to the sector, thereby accelerating training and job creation.
Bhojaram concluded that South Africa needed to become more innovative to unlock projects that would create more jobs.