HomeLocal NewsCovid-19 corruption: Ending the most hated type of evil

Covid-19 corruption: Ending the most hated type of evil

Paul Stevens:Journalist

JUST as the spread of the Coronavirus is proving difficult to stop in countries around the world, so has corruption proven equally difficult to end worldwide over the years.

Every member of society knows that corruption compromises public well-being and ought to be eliminated. But those who personally benefit from corrupt activities always find a way to delay the end to some point in the future.

Those who are misusing and plundering billions of United States dollars devoted to fighting the Coronavirus know they will stop when a vaccine is available. No rush, then, is there?

Wrong! There is an urgency to eliminate the death and destruction caused by the Coronavirus. Without a cure for both evils — the Coronavirus and corruption — the cost to the public treasury is nearly unbearable and the cost to individual citizens totally despicable.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stunningly put a spotlight on the linkage between corruption and the Coronavirus this month.

He labelled the way Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe awarded tenders for personal protective equipment (PPE) as “corrupt” and he described the results of that corruption as “murder”.

Zimbabwe was commended for firing its Health minister Obadiah Moyo over a US$42 million Covid-19 PPE and medicines scandal. The local representative of the company that was awarded the tender has been arrested.

South Africa reacted to the corruption charge by suspending government officials involved in the R2 billion (US$117,7 million) PPE scandal. Kenya was reported by the local press to have gone on the defensive, arguing that there was no corruption in the awarding of PPE tenders to several local companies. Despite these protestations, Kenyan citizens took to the streets to rally against the process used by the government.

These events paint a very ugly picture of corruption in Africa. South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) foreign correspondent Sophie Moekwena made some brave remarks against corruption on television, calling upon President Cyril Ramphosa to not only speak as he did in his message to the ANC against corruption, but to act against it by firing the government officials involved.

She even cited the case of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s firing of former health minister on allegations of corruptly awarding the PPE and medicines tenders.

Then another senior journalist from SABC, Mzwandile Beje, also castigated Ramaphosa on television for mixed messaging. While the president issued a stern warning, no one missed the point that all the corrupt perpetrators still kept their jobs.

In his anti-corruption letter to the ANC this month, Ramaphosa said: “Today, the ANC and its leaders stand accused of corruption. The ANC may not stand alone in the dock, but it does stand as Accused No 1.”

Strong words, but where is the action?

South Africa’s Covid-19 PPE corruption scandal is a national disgrace. Awards were made to a deceased businessman along with owners of companies that were not tax compliant.

Ramaphosa has to do more to fight corruption in South Africa than talk about its evils. The people deserve better than to allow minor functionaries to gorge themselves at the public trough. He also has to set an example of strength and determination for the rest of Africa in his role as the chairperson of the African Union this year.

While he condemned “jobs for pals”, where politicians and officials disregard hiring procedures to employ family members, friends or associates, he has not rescinded any appointments or chastised any subordinates for doing so. Why?

While Ramaphosa is well aware that the public feels punishment for money-looting is inadequate, he unfortunately chose not to move forcefully against it. In fact, the looted cash angers people more than “jobs for pals.”

It amounts to stealing from you and me!

Ramaphosa’s words sound nice, but they have no bite: “Not only is (nepotism) grossly unfair to other prospective candidates, but it often means that the people employed are simply not up to the task.”

While no one would argue with the Ramaphosa’s impeccable analysis, without some concrete action to reverse the effects of nepotism it amounts to the “same old”, ANC approach to corruption. Non-existent.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa said there was a need to mobilise the “whole of society” against corruption. Fine. Is he prepared to lead this crusade, to do something concrete that demonstrates that he is serious?

Former South Africa’s president Nelson Mandela successfully fought the evils of apartheid. Will Ramaphosa rise to the equally difficult challenge of fighting corruption among the ANC cadres, its leadership, and in the Government they run?

In South Africa, Ramaphosa emphasised the need for the ANC members to support the stand against corruption of progressive organisations. If he is serious about this, he will reward those ANC members that do as he asks and punish those who do not.

Since corruption is a worldwide problem, Ramaphosa can seize the opportunity to lead the world in combatting it. In the US, for example, critics say that pharmaceutical companies are corruptly suppressing publicity on giving the public access to dietary solutions and cheap herbal remedies that can be used to fight Covid-19 without spending billions of dollars.

And healthcare is not the only place corruption can be found in the US. This month President Donald Trump’s former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, reportedly swindled more than US$25 million from Trump supporters. The money was meant to be donated towards the cause of securing the border with Mexico. He was arrested and is now awaiting trial on the charges.

Then there is a recently published book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. Perkins was once a self-described “economic hit man” (EHM) who infiltrated developing countries with suitcases of money to capture their leaders with bribes and loans and extract huge concessions from them for US business interests.

The international scourge of corruption is just as prevalent in Angola as it is in Turkey. It can be found in Belarus, as well as in Panama. Former US President John F. Kennedy was assured election in 1960 only because of corrupt politicians in Chicago. Literally or figuratively, stuffing ballot boxes corrupts democracies to the point that most fail.

Now note what Trump said on August 17, 2020 and has repeated several times. He said he is going to win the Presidency again and that if he does not win, it will be because of election fraud. In short, he is saying that anything short of his election will amount to a stolen election. In other words, if he wins it could be corrupt, but if he loses it will be corrupt.

How to frustrate all forms of corruption has become a major area of concentration of think-tanks worldwide, from America to Zimbabwe. Remember, corruption is most often thought of in terms of government activities.

But it exists in every realm of human behaviour — from cheating on the quality of building supplies in the course of construction to using less medicine in each inoculation to calibrating a market’s scale to show items heavier than they actually are.

Whatever the form of corruption, some critics argue that the best way to end corruption once and for all is to punish those who are involved in corruption as strongly as possible whenever they are caught.

“My approach is to cause shock and awe by hitting them once, but so hard that they never can engage in corruption again. It would end the scourge of corruption for a generation,” US–based public policy consultant Godfrey Harris, the author of the book: Corruption: How To Deal With Its Impact On Society and Business, said.

He notes that his solution is simple and clean: Anyone convicted of a corrupt activity — from the cop who takes a bribe to forget a traffic ticket to the government minister who authorises a variance to permit a larger building on a smaller lot — should be immediately stripped of all of his or her assets along with the right to travel internationally.

The criminal, members of his immediate family, and business associates benefitting from the corruption would lose their houses, cars, and investments. No appeal, no excuses, no second chances. If we had leaders willing to prosecute under this type of law and then enforce it consistently without favour, we would end corruption instantly.

Moreover, Harris says anyone who opposes this “one and done” approach for ending corruption maybe someone who has benefitted or plans to benefit from corruption in the future. He or she is part of the problem that needs complete elimination.

We need a new mantra for all those involved in rooting out corruption in all realms of life:“ Find ‘em, name ‘em, shame ‘em and strip ‘em.”

Non-governmental organisations normally want to come across as the agencies of anti-corruption and yet some of them are as corrupt as anything government produces.

For example, Harris’ book on corruption deals with the many instances of non-governmental corruption and also corruption that is not necessarily illegal — but definitely immoral. Corrupt behaviour is causing problems for our communities, not because laws are weak or because we are insufficiently diligent, but because it is so pervasive.

While most noticeable in government and business, corruption is also found among religious organisations, non-profit groups, sports teams, and individual families. Because corrupt behaviour is not restricted to illegal activities, it hampers society’s progress whenever rules are bent, boundaries are trespassed, and standards are lowered.

In most African countries and many other countries around the world, there are examples of people being released from prison only to then enjoy the loot they have stolen. Some even escape justice without being arrested. The Guptas allegedly captured South Africa under President Jacob Zuma’s administration and then left the country without being prosecuted. Although some of their ill-gotten wealth is being recovered, they are alleged to have externalised most of it and are currently enjoying it.

Former president of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko is alleged to have looted over US$5 billion and stashed it in Swiss banks. Some sources put the figure as high as US$15 billion. He died in 1997, leaving behind a very poor a country that is struggling to reclaim the loot being enjoyed by his immediate family members.

A January 2020 report published by South Africa-based newspaper, The Mail & Guardian, alleged that there is some evidence that the family of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos looted the state that he was supposed to be governing. Worse, Western firms helped dos Santos every step of the way. Today, the daughter of the former president, Isabel dos Santos, is said to be Africa’s second richest woman worth more than US$2 billion.

In January of this year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its partner publications released information from someone at the heart of the dos Santos business empire.

The trove of documents – “the Luanda Leaks” — unearthed an incredible amount of information! The dos Santos business empire comprises 400 companies in 41 countries. They are linked to dos Santos’ daughter and her husband, Sindika Dokolo. These include banks, telecoms services, media organisations and shell companies in tax havens.

If you oppose the proposed draconian penalties for corruption or remain silent when others are speaking against them, then you better explain why you are not part of the corruption problem going forward? If you are committed to ending corruption, but think the penalties proposed are too harsh, then come up with a better strategy to end corruption.

While the media continues to do a good job towards exposing corruption worldwide, we also need those in government to hold politicians fully accountable for their words and actions.

Stevens is a Harare-based freelance writer.

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