New anti-corruption watchdog launched

March 1st, 2012
x
Bookmark

By Nomfundo Manyathi

An independent, non-profit institute, Corruption Watch (CW), has been launched to assist in combating crime. The institute was launched at Constitution Hill in January at an event that included the launch of a website and an SMS hotline where it will receive reports of corruption.

The launch was attended by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi. The institute is a Cosatu initiative.

David Lewis, the executive director of CW, explained how the institute will work. He said that the public can use the website and SMS hotline as whistle-blowing platforms to post information about corrupt activities.

He added that CW will gather, analyse and disseminate the information to the public. CW will then decide which of the incidents to investigate further and which to pass on to the relevant authorities. Mr Lewis said that the personal details of anyone reporting an incident will be kept confidential. He said: ‘Information from crowd-sourcing offers a clear understanding of what is happening on the ground.’

The institute’s first campaign will be to get as many people as possible to sign an online pledge refusing to participate in corruption and, if they are civil servants, committing to treating public resources with respect. There will also be an SMS option.

The CW board is made up of National Planning Commission member, Bobby Godsell; Section27’s director of litigation and legal services, Adila Hassim; David Lewis; former Department of Higher Education and Training director-general, Mary Metcalfe; former Home Affairs Department director-general, Mavuso Msimang; Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane; former Constitutional Court Justice Kate O’Regan; Zwelinzima Vavi; and chairperson Vuyiseka Dubula, who is the general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign.

In a speech, Minister Radebe said that there ‘was no doubt’ that corruption was a serious challenge facing South Africa’s democratic transformation. He added that many had appropriately defined corruption as ‘a cancer that eats at the fibre of our development, such that where it occurs, it leaves the various developmental initiatives morally bankrupt’.

Minister Radebe gave an example of corruption by saying that he recently learned of a case where a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house was built for R16 million. He said that the service provider had ‘short-changed not only the government, but also the deserving poor people who were the intended beneficiaries’.

The Justice Minister then highlighted a few of the achievements of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), which included its seizure of property worth millions from former Cape Town attorneys Hoosain Mohammed and Ahmed Chohan, who defrauded the Road Accident Fund and impoverished accident victims of their money a few years ago.

Minister Radebe said that in the past ten years the AFU had made a significant impact on crime and corruption and had to date:

  • Frozen assets to the value of more than R 3,35 billion in more than 1 700 cases.
  • Forfeited assets to the value of more than R 950 million in more than 1 400 cases.
  • Deposited more than R 230 million into the Criminal Asset Recovery Account and channelled the proceeds to further fight corruption.
  • Repaid more than R 400 million to victims of crime.
  • Clarified the law by obtaining 243 judgments, including six judgments in the Constitutional Court and 23 in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Minister Radebe added that corruption needed to be tackled from the ‘small levels’ as well, adding that small bribes relating to drinks, lunches, teas, traffic fines, presents and for assisting in jumping the queue at universities during registration periods graduated into ‘a culture of impunity’ and high levels of corruption.

‘The existence of Corruption Watch will bear testament to the fact that this cancer of corruption can only be defeated with the concerted efforts of all our people,’ he said.

Minister Radebe described corruption as being ‘the abuse of power to dispense wealth in favour of oneself or immediate family or friends’. He added that for corruption to take effect there must be the primary relationship of ‘corruptor and corruptee’, based on the power to dispense corruption by either of the two.

Minister Radebe concluded his speech by saying that he hoped that society would not only ask what the country or government should do to combat corruption, but also what it is that they could do to combat corruption.

Ms Madonsela said that South Africa needed a united front in order to triumph over corruption. She added that ‘tenderpreneurs’ – those who participate in public procurement self-enrichment schemes that ‘treat government funds as orphaned money’ – needed to be named and shamed, adding that: ‘It is a fact of life that we live in an era where pseudo-entrepreneurs collude with public officials and office bearers to deprive our people not only of enormous resources but also of service delivery.’

Ms Madonsela said that through bribery people jumped the queue in the delivery of RDP houses and that many were still waiting for their homes despite registering in 1996.

The Public Protector said that a 2011 crime survey done by Statistics South Africa revealed that bribery was the most common form of corruption in organs of state such as traffic departments, the police, social services, housing and home affairs, adding that corruption posed a threat to the guarantees made in the Constitution and that the poor suffered the most because of it.

‘I always indicate that as a country we have a very good legal foundation and framework, as well as oversight agencies set up to deal with this problem. We have the Constitution and laws such as the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act [12 of 2004], the Prevention of Organised Crime Act [121 of 1998] and the Protected Disclosures Act [26 of 2000], among others,’ she said.

She added that South Africa had an independent and credible judicial system that ensured that transgressions were detected and that justice prevailed.

Mr Vavi said that ‘corruption was growing like a wild fire in the veld, threatening to engulf and destroy the future of a country that has so much potential’.

He said that the launch of CW was a ‘critical intervention’ as corruption was ‘daylight theft from the poor’.

Mr Vavi said that the Auditor-General, Terence Nombembe, had uncovered R 20 billion in unauthorised expenditure by national and provincial departments in 2010/11 adding that ‘only three out of 39 government departments (down from six three years ago), and 106 out of 272 state-owned enterprises, had clean audits for 2011 and only seven municipalities out of 237 received a clean audit for 2009/10’. Mr Vavi said that the former head of the Special Investigating Unit, Willie Hofmeyr, had estimated that the government lost up to R 30 billion to corruption every year.

Mr Vavi concluded his speech by saying that public servants had to choose whether they wanted to pursue their business interests or serve the public, as they could not do both at the same time.

To report any information about corruption to Corruption Watch or to sign the pledge, go to www.corruptionwatch.org.za

Nomfundo Manyathi, nomfundo@derebus.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2012 (March) DR 6.