Yes, you can tackle corruption, Mr President, and here is how

THERE are four policy interventions that President Cyril Ramaphosa (pictured) can introduce that will go a long way towards tackling the endemic corruption within the government and the African National Congress (ANC).

South African Politician

When I left formal politics last year, I promised myself I would stop publicly pursuing the ANC and its countless and persistent infractions of goodwill and common decency in government. After six years as leader of the official opposition in parliament, it became second nature to use every opportunity to shriek disapproval of the ANC’s track record in government and how its rank failures are directly felt by South Africa and all its people.

It was muscle memory. And it took much intentional “unlearning” to reverse such an uninspiring brand of reactionary politics. Not only does it lack vision, but it requires very little effort. To point out the ANC’s failures is a simple task. It is no innovative political strategy, that is for sure.

That being said, as I witnessed the unfolding corruption scenes within the ANC over the past days, I have had to revisit my new-found approach. Not for myself, not even for the One South Africa Movement, but for South Africa. Looting is not an ANC issue; it affects the people. They must be assured the state is doing something about it.

Whenever I think about the topic of corruption, I am reminded of a conversation I had a few years back with my friend and former British prime minister David Cameron. At the time, I was strongly advocating a policy position to “end corruption” in both the public and private sector. When he heard the proposal, a polite and under-the-breath giggle followed. There will always be corruption, he responded. However, it is the frequency of corrupt acts and the extent to which such acts are punished that separates successful countries from struggling ones, he said.

This moment has stuck with me, mainly because it is a brutally honest assessment of realistic policy in action. While I hold the value proposition that we must “end corruption”; as Cameron pointed out, you cannot guarantee this. It is an infinite dream because human beings are fallible. Thus, the finite challenge is rather to guarantee citizens that those who chose to commit acts of corruption will be held accountable and face the full consequence of the law. Approaching corruption in this manner is both realistic and achievable.

Enter the ANC and Ramaphosa. A recent to and fro of open letters between the current president and his predecessor — with corruption at the centre — has refocused the public eye on what is happening in government.

Ramaphosa’s letter denouncing ANC corruption, addressed to ANC members, was as close to an apology as the public will ever get. While there is some value to this “non-apology” apology, suggestions that it offers to solve the problem are dead wrong.

Last weekend, the president made the pre-emptive move of availing himself to the ANC’s Integrity Commission. Internal structures of the ANC are not remedies for public sector corruption. Internal structures neither guarantee objectivity nor ensure legally binding accountability.

South Africa is not expecting Ramaphosa to end corruption within the government and the ANC. Well, at least not yet. What we are expecting is for there to be zero tolerance for corruption, that corrupt politicians are fired and jailed, and in turn that acts of corruption become the exception rather than the norm.

I suggest four policy interventions the president can introduce that will go a long way towards tackling the endemic corruption within government and the ANC.
First, the urgent establishment of Specialised Corruption Courts, with the mandate to investigate and prosecute. Interministerial committees and integrity commissions are stalling tactics. These bodies have no teeth and no power. By setting up corruption courts, staffed with seasoned prosecutors, the public can submit evidence de novo and anonymously, business implicated in public sector corruption can be reported, and whistle-blowers can be protected from intimidation. This is already an ANC policy resolution; it simply needs to be put into action.

Second, the permanent implementation of continuous lifestyle audits of all politicians and senior government officials. The idea of lifestyle audits needs to be fleshed out and given sufficient teeth to expose those who have been accumulating wealth from tenders and other forms of abuse of power. Done without robust measures these can be a window-dressing exercise, designed to simply exonerate as many people as possible.

In order to be effective, lifestyle audits must be forensic in nature — looking into bank accounts, debit payments, school fees payments, trust accounts and all money that changed hands with politicians. Moreover, they must not be restricted to the politician, but to spouses, to close relatives and close friends. The Zumas, Ramaphosas and Dikos have shown us that tender wrongdoing is often done in collusion with friends and family.

Third, lobbying parliament to legislate for a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted of corruption: the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1997, for serious offences of corruption as outlined in the Executive Members Ethics Act, the Public Service Act, as well as the PFMA, MFMA, POCA and PACCA — to name but a few.

Last, increasing transparency in the tender process. The president is correct, maximum transparency is best practice. To do so, we must introduce an online system whereby objections can be lodged in a seven-day period before funds are disbursed to tender winners. This will allow members of the public and tender competitors to raise material concerns before the damage is done and money is lost for good.

The people of South Africa are no longer going to entertain half-measures and lip service in order to cut corruption. We need to see faces in court docks and prison cells. Anything less is offensive. — Daily Maverick.Maimane is the chief activist of the One South Africa Movement.

One thought on “Yes, you can tackle corruption, Mr President, and here is how”

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