Corruption: It takes two to tango - Madonsela

Public Protector says SA's corruption problem extends well beyond the state

Address by Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela during the launch of Corruption Watch at the Women's Gaol, Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, Gauteng

26 Jan 2012

Programme Director, Mr Xolani Gwala;
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development , Hon Mr Jeff Radebe;
Corruption Watch Executive Director, Mr David Lewis and Members of the Board of Directors;
COSATU President , Mr Sidumo Dlamini;
COSATU General Secretary, Mr Zwelinzima Vavi;
Other leaders of COSATU and its affiliates present;
Representatives of government;
Political and community leaders;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;

I am honoured to be in your midst today to bear witness to this historic moment as civil society takes its rightful place in the struggle against the scourge of corruption.

It seems like only yesterday when we read in the newspapers in September 2010 that the workers, under the banner of trade union federation COSATU, resolved to set up an "anti-corruption institution of civil society" comprising a team of"lawyers, accountants and auditors, who will conduct preliminary investigations and process these with the relevant authorities."

The move taken by the labour movement is something to be commended. Many other sectors of our society can learn a lot from this development because, as a country, we need a united front if we are to triumph over corruption. Central to that front is citizen empowerment and active citizenship.

As a Constitutional institutions tasked with fighting corruption, among other things, we are honoured to participate in this historical initiative. We sincerely congratulate COSATU and the Board of the Corruption Watch for the initiative.

Corruption Watch's mission carries a message that resonates with the stances taken by oversight agencies that operate within the public sector during engagements such as the Annual Public Protector Good Governance Week and Conference.

Some of the key words that one picks up from the mission are "accountability", "transparency" and "public resources".

I'm also encouraged by Corruption Watch's understanding that corruption is a societal problem and not an isolated public sector problem.

Correctly recognising that where corruption is concerned, "it takes two to tango", Corruption Watch developed a pledge targeted at the men and women in this country to commit themselves to not engage in corruption.

I am informed that this pledge will form part of Corruption Watch's initial campaign and I think this is an informed approach because too often we look at corruption in a one-sided manner, forgetting that for every corrupted individual, there is a corruptor.

I am convinced that the journey we are kick-starting today will go a long way in helping South Africa rid herself of the corruption, which has continued to steal so mercilessly from those living below the bread line.

Initiatives such as this one, pioneered and spear-headed by the civil society, are very central to the important task of uprooting corruption. Such initiatives provide answers to the long standing questions such as the following:

  • What, really, is the role of the civil society in the fight against corruption?
  • Is civil society just made up of spectators and armchair critics, who will just sit back comfortably while pointing to the wrongs of the doer? Or;
  • Should this sector be at the heart of action, participating in the fight against corruption?

Most of us are familiar with corruption in the government procurement system.Terms such as "tenderpreneurs" have been coined to refer to name and shame those that participate in public procurement self-enrichment schemes that treat government funds as orphaned money. Pseudo entrepreneurs involved in these schemes make use of personal connections to the powerful to score lucrative government contracts, often benefiting from inflated fees while delivering shoddy service. It is a fact of life that we live in an era where pseudo entrepreneurs collude with public officials and office bearers to deprive our people not only of enormous resources but also of service delivery.

But is procurement-related corruption in the public sector our only problem? Not at all.

Firstly, corruption is not exclusive to the public sector. There are various forms of corruption in civil society and the private sector. Public sector corruption also involves members of civil society. If there were no corrupt people in civil society there would be no corruption in the public sector.

Corruption is equally rife in the regulatory environment and service delivery. Through bribery and preference based on self interest, people jump the queue in the delivery of RDP houses. As we speak many are still waiting for their homes though they registered in 1996. Previously, I related the sorry of Ms N who suffered due to corruption and fraud in the social housing sector. She was one of those robbed out of an "RDP" house through corruption and fraud.

We live in an era where, as revealed by the Statistics South Africa's 2011 Victims of Crime Survey, bribery is the most common form of corruption at organs of state such as traffic departments, police, social services, housing and home affairs.

We live in the times of high levels of poverty, where our people struggle with basic necessities of life such as human dignity, health care, food, water, housing and social security, which our Constitution rightfully guarantees. Yet, some of those entrusted with the exercise of public power and control over state resources abuse that power for their own selfish reasons.

Initiatives such as this one could not have come at a better time if not long overdue. It is about time that all of us, as patriotic South Africans, stand together and fight this monster called corruption with the same courage and resilience demonstrated when we battled against and defeated apartheid and social exclusion.

Corruption poses a threat to the guarantees made in the Constitution. The poor suffer more than all of us. Yet when those that have robbed the poor are called to account, they call upon the very victims of their crimes to defend them. I've previously expressed the view that the message of these dream stealers to the poor is: "Support us for we are eating for you".

I must hasten to mention though that the picture is not all gloomy. The forces for good governance are far more superior to those fostering corruption and maladministration. I firmly believe this scourge has not reached the proportions it has reached in many other countries.

I always indicate that as a country we have a very good legal foundation and framework as well as oversight agencies set up to deal with this problem. We have the Constitution and laws such as Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, the Prevention of Organised Crime Act and the Protected Disclosures Act, among others.

We have an independent and credible judicial system that ensures that transgressions are detected and that justice prevails.

There is generally leadership commitment to the fight against corruption. The commitment of government announced by Minister Radebe earlier is not a once off matter. Government has consistently maintained an anticorruption stance. The challenge is to ensure consistent and coordinated action in pursuit of the commitments.

Institutions such as the Public Protector, the National Prosecuting Authority though its wings such as the Assert Forfeiture Unit and the Special Investigating Unit, the South African Police Service including the Hawks, the Public Service Commission, the Presidential Hotline and National Anti-Corruption Forum, among others, have been established with a view to flush out corruption.

I therefore see the establishment of Corruption Watch as a welcome move to bolster whatever interventions that have already been put in place for this purpose. The cherry on top is that Corruption Watch is an initiative of the civil society.

As the head of the Public Protector South Africa, an institution that also plays a critical role in the fight against corruption, I am encouraged by initiatives such as this one.

The success of this initiative depends on working together. Government should continue to match action with announcements on corruption. In this regard, I'm encouraged by what the Minister has just said.

Collaboration and strengthening synergies are very important. We accordingly look forward to working with Corruption Watch. This will involve among others, awareness-raising and referrals. The protection of whistle-blowers is also critical.

Openness and transparency are not negotiable. This particularly includes transparency in the government regulatory frameworks. Specifically, there should be transparency with regard to recipients of all services or opportunities distributed by the state. We also need transparency with regard to reasons for decisions that are made by those who exercise public or enormous power in all areas of life.

Free flow of information is an equally important key. Media freedom and impartiality can never be over emphasised in the fight against corruption and the promotion of good governance.

As the Public Protector SA Team, we commit and look forward to working closely with Corruption Watch. I would imagine many other oversight agencies would welcome this move and vow to work closely with Corruption Watch since we are working towards a common goal.

I also call on all sectors of society to throw their weight behind Corruption Watch and related initiatives. I have no doubt in my mind that initiatives such as this are hope-inspiring to our people. Increasingly our people often feel overwhelmed and even brutalised by the selfish and thoughtless acts of those that are stealing the dream promised by the Constitution.

When we support these interventions, the impact on the ground will be massive. The key impact will be an improved regulatory framework and efficient, effective and responsive use of public resources for the benefit of the people. The private sector too will see improvements.

We will see consistent service delivery improvement in services such as poverty alleviation programmes, housing, healthcare, justice, job creation, education, social security and rural development will be used exactly for that.

As a result, we will begin to see even more notable improvements in social and infrastructure development, economic growth, working government and most of all, a happy and productive citizenry.

Each and every one of us as residents and citizens of South Africa has got a responsibility to do their bit to rid our public sector of the cancer of corruption. We are all part of the solution when it comes to building a society on accountability, integrity and responsiveness to its entire people.

It is only through that active participation that we can realise the ideal of an accountable state that operates with the highest order of integrity while being responsive to the needs of its people.

Thank you

Issued by the Public Protector South Africa, January 26 2012

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