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Corruption: SA’s new metric of national shame

Former president Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Ccourt where he facing fraud, corruption and racketeering charges. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA).

Former president Jacob Zuma in the Pietermaritzburg High Ccourt where he facing fraud, corruption and racketeering charges. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA).

Published May 31, 2021


Ex-president Jacob Zuma had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the courthouse in Pietermaritzburg to face charges including 18 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Last Wednesday he finally appeared before the judge pleading not guilty to the charges.

On the same day Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize issued an unusual 6-page media briefing – tantamount to a departmental mea culpa and ongoing “independent investigation” relating to a R150m “irregular” contract given by his Ministry to Digital Vibes, which was allegedly grossly overpriced.

Are Zuma’s trial and Mkhize’s confessional “a defining moment for South Africa” and the independence of its judicial and governance processes?

Do these mantash moments signify initial success of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption drive?

That South Africa in its 28th year of democracy should be so definitively defined by yet another metric of national shame – corruption in national and local government, SOEs etc – alongside economic paralysis, state capture, unfettered cadre deployment, a high crime rate, gross inequality, gender-based violence and high youth jobless, shows how far successive ANC governments after Madiba’s two terms have strayed from the ideals of the liberation Struggle and Freedom Charter!

A deviation that would probably take two to three generations to start putting right.

Above all, how far the spirit of ubuntu rooted in traditional African values of dignity, common humanity, responsibility of individuals to each other – second to none including liberal democratic ones – has been displaced by unfettered pursuit of individualism, self-interest and enrichment.

The only “redemption” is that corruption, like the coronavirus, does not discriminate against nationality, ethnicity, economic status, race, colour or geography.

It is a universal phenomenon straddling continents, political systems, gender and societies. It is a pandemic as old as humanity and despite measures to control or mitigate its impacts, it remains largely out of control.

Zuma is in the elite company of a bevy of government leaders charged and/or convicted of corruption.

Sitting Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption. A predecessor Ehud Olmert served jail time for corruption. Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy was in March sentenced to three years for corruption, only the second modern French president after Jacques Chirac in 2011. Ex-president Donald Trump is under criminal investigation for his business dealings by New York prosecutors.

South Korea has convicted five ex-presidents since the 1990s, culminating in the 2018 impeachment of president Park Geun-hye. Ex-president Luiz “Lula” da Silva of Brazil was jailed in 2018. The list is endless. The usual mantra is of “witch hunts” and politically-motivated actions.

Such outbursts generally are the refuge of scoundrels and a misplaced sense of self-entitlement.

In times of crisis – political, economic and health – corruption tends to flourish. A case in point is Covid-related pandemic profiteering in procurement.

Transparency International (TI’s) Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 shows “little or no progress in the fight against corruption around the world”.

The disturbing development is the perceived increase in corruption in the US.

International gatekeepers such as the IMF, WHO, OECD, WTO and the UN – under-resourced and with varying politico-institutional priorities – frankly have little clue as to the real cost of pandemic profiteering.

The statistics of corruption is nauseating – the Zuma kleptocracy saw the Guptas allegedly siphoning off over R2 trillion. In the US, Covid furloughing resulted in over $1billion (R13.7bn) hijacked by fraudsters.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Buzzfeed News last September published evidence that global banks moved over $2 trillion in suspicious payments between 1999 and 2017.

Corruption is often fuelled by narrow self-interest. The way export credit agencies dish out guarantees to cover contracts of their national companies involved in the $60bn LNG gas projects in Mozambique for instance, is all about preserving jobs at home as opposed to rooting out corruption and mismanagement abroad.

This despite the IMF adopting a Framework for Enhanced Engagement on Governance in 2018. The fund is under scrutiny for its lack of end-use monitoring of its Covid mitigation Rapid Financing Instrument, of which $4.3bn was disbursed to Pretoria last July. The IMF approach is systemic, based on frameworks, assessments and engagement.

It can advocate and even threaten, but in the end it is the quality of governance systems and institutions, the rule of law, type of political systems and the depth of civil society activism that can make the difference.

How revealing that Fund MD Kristalina Georgieva at the Summit on Financing of African Economies in May did not even mention the “C” word, merely stressing the opportunity for “strengthening governance”. The same for an IMF Blog on Sub-Saharan Africa themed “The Policymaker’s Trilemma” which contemplates the priorities of navigating three conflicting goals – increasing spending, containing debt and resistance to tax increases.

If the actual cost of and opportunity cost lost because of corruption is so high, isn’t it time that the IMF includes a S-SAP (social sector action plan) alongside its regular F-SAP (financial sector action plan) in its surveillance armoury? The two are inextricably-linked. Lest the fund be accused of humanising its funding paradigm.

TI’s 2021-2030 Global Strategy Against Corruption with its beguiling blurb “Holding Power to Account” identifies seven objectives to combat corruption in the next decade. These include protecting public resources; stopping flow of dirty money; securing integrity in politics; driving integrity in business; pursuing enforcement and justice; expanding civic space and accountability; and building community leadership against corruption.

South Africans owe a huge debt to the likes of Anti-Corruption Crusader and former public protctor Thuli Madonsela for her relentless pursuit of graft takers and givers which rattled even Zuma.

* Mushtak Parker is a an economist and writer based in London.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.