311010 Zwelinzima Vavi General secretary of COSATU at the meeting . Joint NUM and NUMSA press Conference was held COSATU House in Braamfontein to discuss the collapsed Eskom wage negotiations faced by the two unions organised at Eskom. Picture: Antoine de Ras .04 July 2010

Johannesburg - Congress of SA Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi backed a hard-line stance on public servants doing business with the government at the International Anti-Corruption Day roundtable on Monday.

In a speech prepared for delivery, he supported the position of Public Service Commission (PSC) director general Prof Richard Levin, who believes that in the absence of a total ban, senior officials who fail to disclose conflicts of interest should be charged with misconduct.

“Why do ministers accused of serious offences not follow their consciences and voluntarily resign while the charges are investigated, rather than sit and wait until they are dismissed, this happens in many other countries?” he asked.

Vavi, who chairs the National Anti-Corruption Forum (NACF), said it was not enough for public servants to be allowed to do business with the government provided they declared their interests.

There had to be a zero-tolerance approach.

There also had to be a crack-down on private businesses which collaborated in the misappropriation of public funds.

“We must never forget that for every public official who accepts a bribe, there is a business person who gives it.

“We must change the mindset of those running our public bodies and re-establish a culture of public service, under which public representatives either serve the people honestly and efficiently, or resign and make way for others who will do so,” he said.

The modern definition of corruption was “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery, or the action or effect of making someone or something morally depraved”.

Vavi said if such conduct was not checked, it would threaten to destroy the foundation of South Africa's democracy.

“One of the biggest difficulties we face, however, is that while everyone - government, business, labour, civil society, all political parties and religious denominations - are unanimous and vehement in condemning corruption in principle, none of us are doing enough to turn principles into action on the ground,” he said.

In 2007, the ANC had resolved that it had to provide leadership to society in the fight against corruption and that the country would continue to promote its anti-corruption values.

“The problem is, however, that despite all our fine resolutions, the problem remains endemic,” said Vavi.

An urgent national debate was needed on how South Africa was going to turn around this disaster.

“As long as we are seen to be too scared and unwilling to challenge the growing power of the few who continue to damage the image of political organisations, business formations, civil society formations and more worryingly government, all of them will continue to be discredited.” - Sapa