Blanket amnesty needed on corruption

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Mike Wills believes we have to wipe the slate clean and start again if we’re to ever make headway against those on the take.

Cape Town - Brace yourself, this is going get uncomfortable because I’m making the case for a blanket amnesty on corruption.

I believe we have to wipe the slate clean and start again if we’re to ever make headway against people in state or regulatory positions being on the take.

The evidence is everywhere that we have a serious problem – this week alone a mayor, a deputy mayor, several cops and, for heaven’s sake, a senior figure in the Financial Services Board were named and shamed for fraud or corruption.

Who can be surprised by any of this when the president himself is so deeply mired in serious accusations?

Jacob Zuma’s words are strong on tackling corruption but his actions speak otherwise. His appointments to key legal positions have been so disastrously inappropriate that it has to be a deliberate strategy to render the system incapable of prosecuting him for his connections to the arms deal.

To put this bluntly, as long as those who are in control of the system which is meant to tackle corruption have no vested interest in it working freely and without favour then it will never do so.

There’s a political subtext here as well. There seems to be a growing consensus, and not just among the commentariat, that it’s in the nation’s interests that Zuma leaves office soon and the 72-year-old’s current poor health might be the optimal route for face-saving all round, but that’s not going to happen unless the president is certain that he will stay out of court.

He knows full well that few current presidents ever go to jail anywhere in the world but plenty of former presidents and prime ministers have found themselves in the dock. Egypt, Pakistan, Italy and Thailand provide just a few current examples and, closer to home, successive Zambian leaders have been pursued legally the moment they lost power.

It seems obvious that the only way Zuma will depart the Union Buildings willingly is on the back of some kind of “get out of jail free” card. There are two routes to that goal.

One is the individual pardon which Richard Nixon got from Gerald Ford in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. While there was much academic criticism of that move, everyone in the real world recognised it as a smelly yet essential act in the national interest.

But in our case that sort of pardon feels like a step too far and also a step not far enough. To just liberate Zuma from the legal web would achieve little other than the immediate political goal while deepening cynicism and leaving many other compromised characters in positions of power doing their best to stymie the system.

Somehow Zuma’s successor needs to be able to clear the decks and create new mechanisms and a fresh culture which looks forward rather than back, and that requires a broader amnesty.

Such a sweeping measure would be messy, flawed, morally compromising, legally challenging and would allow some unsavoury characters to get away with the fiscal equivalent of murder – it would be not unlike the TRC process – but I think it has to be done. And none other than the admirable constitutional court Judge Edwin Cameron agrees.

I recently heard Cameron float this notion with approval as he pointed out that there is nothing innate in corruption, that we do not have to accept it as inevitable and that it can be rooted out as long as those doing that essential rooting have the will and the self-interest to do the task thoroughly.

* Mike Wills’ column Open Mike appears in the Cape Argus every Wednesday.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus



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