BUSISIWE MAVUSO: Act now so we do not leave a corruption-riddled country for future generations

POSTED ON: October 11, 2022 IN by Admin
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By Busisiwe Mavuso

We need to get things right in terms of setting up structures and processes to fight corruption.

Will we ever be able to get rid of corruption? Most South Africans would probably emphatically insist that because it’s so deep-rooted and pervasive it will be part of South African life forever.

I can’t accept that. Having emerged from the dark days of Apartheid oppression, that is not the type of country we can leave to future generations. We all deserve better.

In the next few months, we have the ideal opportunity to set the foundations for a brighter future as Judge Raymond Zondo’s anti-corruption measures will be a feature of public debate after President Cyril Ramaphosa presents government’s response to them, scheduled for later this month.

Judge Zondo’s recommendations included that a National Charter against Corruption be adopted by government, the business sector and relevant stakeholders and that an independent Public Procurement Anti-Corruption Agency, including a council, inspectorate, litigation unit, tribunal and court, be established.

This is an important moment in our history. We need to get things right in terms of setting up such structures and processes to fight corruption and ensuring that, whatever form they may take, they are effective and preferably constitutionally protected so they cannot easily be disabled by anyone.

It won’t be easy of course because corruption is so deeply entrenched and there are vested interests in parts of politics and parts of business but what gives me inspiration is that numerous other countries have made good progress in this regard including Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Malaysia, Guatemala and South Korea.

But the most inspirational story, in the context of its history, is Rwanda, one that probably has more valuable lessons for us. Corruption had always been rife in the country and in 1997, the government established a National Tender Board to replace the contract-award system and reformed tax collection to curb corruption and political interference. It has moved up from 121st out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2007 to 52nd last year, while the country is ranked the best in the world on several areas in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, including shareholder governance and fighting inflation. It’s also ranked in the top third of countries for the quality of its institutions, public sector performance, corporate governance and labour force.

At the same time that South Africa emerged from minority rule, Rwanda started out on a new path after the horrific genocide of 1994. Its economy was in tatters, with poverty and hunger rife. Even before the four-year war that preceded the genocide, it had entered a structural adjustment programme with the IMF. The IMF was brought in again in 1997 and the country also underwent a privatisation programme with the World Bank. In 2000, the government established Vision 2020, a long-term development strategy with its main objective to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020, based on a thriving private sector – similar to our National Development Plan. The main difference was that theirs was implemented. It focused on good governance, with accountability and transparency prevalent.

While Rwanda’s democratic backsliding is disturbing, it has managed to establish a healthy economy that grew at 7% every year from 2000 until the Covid pandemic, and it bounced back from that with 10.8% growth in 2021.

Although it is a much smaller country with a population of about 13-million, there’s much that SA can learn from Rwanda but the idea of a national tender board certainly deserves close examination, given how state tenders are so often the fulcrum of corruption. Research commissioned by BLSA recommends that a similar “open tender system register” for SA be established – an idea that has been bandied about for years but never gained traction – but for both state and private sector companies who participate in these tenders.

Such a register would provide details from pre-tender phase – where companies are obliged to provide all bidding details – throughout the procurement cycle. This will add an important element of transparency and oversight to public spending. “It would also address the excessive decentralisation of the procurement system, where individual departments handle tenders, often with different approaches to transparency,” the research states, recommending that the tender board be placed under the auspices of a specialised procurement oversight body.

As we shape our anti-corruption structures in the months ahead, the words of Judge Zondo should be central: “South Africa requires an anti-corruption body free from political oversight and able to combat corruption with fresh and concentrated energy. Public trust will not otherwise be re-established in the procurement system. The ultimate responsibility for leading the fight against corruption in public procurement cannot again be left to a government department or be subject to ministerial control.”

• Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is CEO of Business Leadership SA. This article first appeared in Business Day.

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