South Africa is losing the fight against corruption as it continues to slide downward among countries perceived to have serious challenges with public sector corruption, the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index report shows.
The report, which relies on the expert opinion of business people, experts, think tanks, risk companies, and global data sets, shows SA scored 41 out of 100, the lowest score since Corruption Watch started tracking the country's public sector corruption index 12 years ago.
Actioning Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s recommendations from the State Capture Commission, strengthening the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and other criminal justice institutions, were some of the recommendations to reverse South Africa’s downward slide in the CPI, which scores 180 countries around the world based on perceptions of public sector corruption.
The CPI was released on Tuesday by Transparency International, a global anti-corruption movement, in which South Africa scored 41, a two point drop from last year's score of 43, which showed the country was moving in the wrong direction.
Corruption Watch said SA’s lowest score was 42 in 2013.
The index showed SA was one of 23 countries that reached their lowest ever scores this year, “stumbling into the category of flawed democracies”.
Countries with strong rules of law and functioning democratic institutions scored higher and were closer to the top of the index.
The report showed that democracies had an average score of 73, flawed democracies - like SA - had a score of 48, and authoritarian states had an average score of 32.
The report also showed Sub-Saharan Africa, with a score of 33/100, was the lowest-scoring region in the world.
“Most African countries experienced stagnation, maintaining the region's consistently poor performance, with an unaltered regional average score of 33 out of 100.
“Ninety percent of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa scored under 50,” said the report.
The report said African countries had a lot to do in their fight against corruption.
“The region's persistent challenges stem from decades of severe underfunding in the public sector, exacerbated by corruption and illicit financial flows siphoning resources away from basic public services.
“Addressing social and economic issues remains ineffective, often at the expense of the most vulnerable population.
“Corruption in justice delivery mechanisms disproportionately affects the poorest citizens and those who depend primarily on public services, such as people living with disabilities or women and children, hindering the realisation of global and regional development goals,” the report said.
It said anti-corruption efforts were needed, particularly in the justice network.
Karam Singh, the executive director of Corruption Watch, said it was a massive frustration that after the Zondo Commission very few people had been brought to justice.
“There is an urgency to our problem of corruption, as citizens witness the unravelling of cities and infrastructure because of years of impunity and state capture.
“With elections looming in a few months, the need for accountable leaders of integrity could not be more critical,” said Singh.
“We need a new order, a new drive to remove corruption from our landscape,” Singh said.
Corruption Watch has called on the executive - through the upcoming State of the Nation Address and the Budget - to strengthen institutions and avail sufficient funding to institutions such as the NPA in order to ensure the structural and operational independence of the NPA.
This, Singh said, would be critical in ensuring the fight against corruption and future-proofing the system against future state capture.
Meanwhile, François Valérian, the chairperson of Transparency International, said over two-thirds of countries scored below 50 and since 2016, there has been a global decline in justice and the rule of law.
Valérian said the rise of authoritarianism in some countries contributes to this trend, and even in democratic contexts, mechanisms that kept governments in check have weakened. “Governments across the political spectrum have undermined justice systems, restricted civic freedoms, and relied on non-democratic strategies to address recent challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Against this backdrop, this year's CPI shows that, despite the progress made in criminalising corruption and establishing specialised anti-corruption institutions around the world, only 28 of the 180 countries measured by the CPI have improved their corruption levels, and 34 countries have significantly worsened,” he said.
Valérian added that a country's fight for justice and the fight against corruption go hand in hand, explaining that corruption thrives where the justice system is unable to uphold the rule of law.
“At the same time, where corruption is the norm, access to justice is often hindered for the most vulnerable, and justice institutions may be captured by political, economic, or special interest groups.
“In the most extreme cases, patronage and clientelist networks, many of which transcend national borders, can also use their influence to create impunity for themselves by manipulating legal processes, pushing for selective enforcement, and even altering laws to ensure they are in line with their interests,” said Valérian.
Countries looking to tackle corruption have been urged to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, introduce integrity and monitoring mechanisms, such as prosecutors and judges declaring their assets and interests, improving access to justice, ensuring justice is transparent, promoting cooperation in the justice system and expanding avenues for accountability in grand corruption cases.
– The report showed Somalia, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen were the top 5 countries in the world perceived to be most affected by public sector corruption, with perception scores of 11 to 16 out of 100 between them.
– Denmark, with a score of 90, was perceived as the least corrupt in the world, with the likes of Finland, New Zealand, Norway, and Singapore rounding off the Top 5 least corrupt nations in the world, with scores of 83 to 87 between them.
– The report also showed that 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a score of 33/100, had the lowest scoring region in the world.
– The Seychelles, with a score of 71, Cabo Verde at 64, and Botswana at 59, were the highest-scoring countries in Africa.
– In the North Africa and Middle East region, 18 countries scored an average score of 38.
– The Arab States were struggling to fulfil commitments to justice and human rights due to the absence of proper infrastructure and national integrity systems. With a score of 34/100 among the Arab states, there was a long road ahead in ensuring integrity and justice throughout the region.