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Corruption threatens democracy itself, Ramaphosa says

President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa

8th November 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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President Cyril Ramaphosa has said the "rampant and unbridled corruption" that has gutted the South African economy over the past few decades is not just a threat to the economy, but also to the very concept of democracy in South Africa.

“If corruption is not arrested or stopped, the greatest damage will not be in the funds that are stolen . . . or the jobs that are lost, it will be in the damaging of our democracy. It will be in making our people have less confidence and have less trust in our democracy,” Ramaphosa told delegates at the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council’s (NACAC’s) National Anti-Corruption Dialogue, in Johannesburg, on November 8.

He was quick to point out his belief that corruption was not a phenomenon unique to the African National Congress’ time as the ruling party but that it also prevailed in decades prior under Apartheid rule, which he called both "materially and morally corrupt".

“We must challenge the contention that corruption is a creation of our democracy, because there are people in certain circles who believe that this is a new dimension that came post-1994,” he said.

He commended the efforts of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State, better known as the Zondo Commission or the State Capture Commission, saying that the State capture enquiry was a watershed moment in South African history.

“Not only did the commission lay bare the extent and the depth of State capture and corruption, but it also presented the country with the means to both remedy and deal with corruption, and also to create conditions that would prevent its recurrence,” Ramaphosa stated.

He noted, however, that the full impact of State capture was only being manifested now.

“We are having to deal with the fact that the State's criminal justice agencies are debilitated. Many of them were destroyed and we're having to rebuild them. We're having to make sure that they gain more capability,” he said.

He said it was the people of South Africa who were the current tools of the integrity of the political, social and economic life of the country.

“After all, it was the people of South Africa in all their various formations who stood up against not only Apartheid, but who also stood up against State capture and who, through their democratic institutions, took action to have a commission established to take action to support the commission that had been established, even against difficult odds,” Ramaphosa said.

The President further committed to adequately resourcing the NACAC going forward.

“The criticism that has been leveled against us as government is that we haven't given them enough resources. We will make sure that [NACAC is] properly resourced because we want you to do your work properly. So you will be resourced,” he said to the NACAC council members present.

The NACAC multi-sectoral advisory body was appointed by Ramaphosa in August last year to oversee the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) over a three-year term and to advise on the future of the country’s anti-corruption institutional architecture.

“Much work has been done to strengthen the ability of our institutions to prevent and combat corruption. Significant progress is being made in bringing to justice those responsible for State capture,” he assured delegates.

Ramaphosa said there was a long road but that the fight against corruption was gaining momentum, noting that the anticorruption dialogue underway was a critical part of ensuring that progress continued to be made.

“We want to strengthen the consensus on what is a sustainable anticorruption reform agenda which embraces an all-society or all-government approach. One of the critical success factors recognized internationally in the fight against corruption is the involvement of the people who have to hold their representatives accountable. If we don't get that pillar in place, we will not succeed,” NACAC chairperson councillor Professor Firoz Chachalia said at the event.

Since its inception, NACAC has hosted monthly plenary meetings and one multi-stakeholder meeting in January, with two provincial engagements in the North West in August and in Limpopo in September. Starting in October last year, interviews have been carried out with law enforcement and government members. These interviews are still being conducted.

NACAC has four advisories to the President, two on whistleblowers, one on political party funding, and one on the monitoring and evaluation of the NACS.

In August, NACAC carried out a study tour to Kenya.

“We may be setting up new institutions, and we make we have to make them future-proofed. Nobody should be able to dismantle the institutions we set up to fight corruption. They did that in Kenya. They learned their lesson. They now have a new body in place,” Cachalia said.

Additionally, a multi-stakeholder conference on using data analytics to combat corruption was held in September.

“I think technology is going to be a big element of the fight and can make a huge difference to the capacity of law enforcement agencies. So we're going to have to make the investment,” Cachalia said.

Ramaphosa said the anti-corruption dialogue was a very important moment in the life of the country.

“We will talk about further strategies that we need to embark upon to fight corruption. Let it be said that the fight against corruption is not only for the police, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority, or our courts. It's a societal fight. It is not only for the President. I want to remind us that the State capture commission would most probably never have been appointed had the people of South Africa not stood up and said enough is enough,” Ramaphosa said.

The NACS, which was adopted by Cabinet in November 2022, was designed to provide a framework and action plan for the country as a whole and is aimed at fostering a society in which government's administrative and procurement processes are reinforced to allow for greater monitoring, accountability and transparency.

“The strategy is an anti-corruption compact, since it is all of society that must get involved in this fight against corruption both in the state and business, and in society. As also alluded to by the professor, the strategy fills an important gap in that it focuses on preventative measures that complement the actions of law enforcement agencies and other constitutional bodies in responding to corruption. The strategy aims to stop corruption before it occurs,” Ramaphosa said.

He highlighted the need to focus on the procurement process in South Africa, conceding that greater checks and balances needed to be in place.

“We have to look at the integrity of the procurement systems because that is where the money is found. That is where all these thieves and thugs focus their attention, because that is the center that dispenses the resources that they want to steal,” he said.

He added that it was important to deal with capacity building in all of South Africa’s law enforcement agencies, as this was key to ending corruption.

“We have institutions that investigate. The President cannot investigate corruption because, once the President investigates corruption, and once the President arrests those who are corrupt, and once the President prosecutes those who are corrupt, and once the President acts as a judge, then it's time to run for the hills, because all has been lost. My duty as President is to ensure that we strengthen those institutions that should investigate, capacitate those institutions that need to arrest and that need to prosecute a charge,” he said.

Cachalia said that the NACS was aimed at ensuring that the public was educated about what constituted corruption and that it was empowered to respond when necessary.

The driving force behind the NACS is to encourage the public and other whistleblowers to report corruption and receive adequate support and protection when doing so. In addition, the NACS stipulates that public officials ought to be held accountable for service delivery or the lack thereof, while the business sector and civil society organisations are encouraged to operate in a values-driven manner and hold them accountable for corrupt practices.

The NACS is geared at spearheading a culture of zero tolerance towards corruption across all sectors and providing the means and mechanisms for ensuring accountability for those involved in corrupt practices.

The strategy is based on six strategic pillars.

The first pillar is to promote and encourage active citizenry, whistleblowing, integrity and transparency. The second pillar aims to advance the professionalisation of employees to optimise their contribution to create corruption-free workplaces. The third pillar is to enhance governance, oversight and accountability in organisations in all sectors. The fourth pillar is to improve the integrity, transparency and credibility of the public procurement system. The fifth pillar is to strengthen the resourcing, coordination, transnational cooperation, performance, accountability and independence of dedicated anticorruption agencies, while the sixth pillar is aimed at protecting vulnerable sectors that are most prone to corruption and unethical practices with effective risk management.

To ensure the adequate national implementation and coordination of the NACS, a phased approach was recommended.

In phase one, the establishment of NACAC formed the first step. NACAC is responsible for managing the initial transitional matters of strategy implementation, including research, conceptual development, and the drafting of a proposal to Cabinet for the establishment of the overarching body. Its work primarily involves engagements with relevant inter-Ministerial committees, clusters, and social partners.

With the council established in August last year, it was originally meant to be operational for a maximum period of two years or be disbanded as soon as a permanent body was established in phase two. This operational period has been extended to three years.

Phase two, which was originally meant to be implemented by next year but which will now likely only take place in 2025, needs to ensure that a permanent but independent overarching statutory or constitutionally entrenched State body is established. This yet-to-be-named body will drive the long-term rollout of the strategy and its related programmes.

In addition, this permanent body will report to Parliament and be premised on an integrated multidimensional operational model with cross-sectoral collaboration.

According to NADAC, many stakeholders have expressed a high sense of urgency to have this permanent body established as soon as possible based on a comprehensive legal framework.

“We should unite around the implementation of the strategy and develop a consensus on the goals, priorities and sequencing of anticorruption reform initiatives. We have to do it all, but we have to do it strategically by identifying priorities and being clear about the sequences,” Cachalia said.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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