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African Anti-Corruption Day (AACD), held every year on 11 July, aims to recognise the progress that has been made in fighting corruption across the continent, and reiterate the need to move with the times in developing approaches to end corruption.

This year’s edition is the sixth, and will be commemorated under the theme Strategies and Mechanisms for the Transparent Management of Covid-19 Funds.

The event is a chance, says the African Union (AU), under whose auspices the event takes place – for all anti-corruption stakeholders to reflect and dialogue on the strategies and mechanisms taken on transparency in management of Covid-19 funds. The AU has its own continent-wide anti-corruption instrument – the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) – which was adopted on 11 July 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) have an important role to play as watchdogs of transparency and accountability in government spending. Besides providing information and services to people in the sectors in which they focus their activities, they uphold the very pillars of democracy, development, and national cohesion. They play a role in monitoring government spending, contribute to policy development, and fight to defend citizens’ rights.

As a CSO concerned with government transparency and accountability, Corruption Watch (CW), as far back as April 2020, warned Treasury of a significant risk of corruption as a result of the lack of transparency or provision for monitoring emergency procurement, which was part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even then it was too late, as corrupt activities were in full swing and would only get worse

In a later letter related to vaccine procurement specifically, we asked Treasury to brief the public on how emergency procurement works in general, the specific procurement system to be applied to the vaccine rollout, and the oversight measures to be taken to ensure compliance with regulations such as the Public Finance Management Act.

We also requested Treasury to clarify its role – if there is one – in actively advising the national Department of Health in the procurement process.

Promoting the AUCPCC – a new guide

As part of its support of AACD and the AUCPCC, Transparency International (TI) has released an advocacy toolkit for African CSOs whose advocacy work includes pushing for compliance with the convention.

The convention, says TI, provides a roadmap for AU member states to implement good governance and anti-corruption policies and systems. Such implementation is by no means certain, and CSOs across the continent have relentlessly pressed lethargic governments to meet those AUCPCC commitments.

Titled Promoting the African Union Convention On Preventing and Combating Corruption: Tools and Tactics, the TI toolkit has collected various advocacy and accountability strategies developed by TI chapters in Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia in four particularly problematic areas – money laundering, illicit enrichment, political party funding, and civil society and media. These strategies are designed for each country’s individual set of challenges, and are now available for other CSOs to replicate or tailor to their own situations.

The TI  toolkit is part of a larger package of guiding material produced under the umbrella project Towards Enforcement of African Commitments Against Corruption (TEACAC). Other documents include:

The guide provides real examples of creative advocacy work to promote the AUCPCC, says TI, but emphasises that “they are not to be considered the very best practice but rather an illustration of an advocacy approach”.

CSOs vital for holding governments to account

The Tools and Tactics publication groups the CSOs’ advocacy work into six themes:

  • Increase public awareness;
  • Empower African civil society;
  • Strengthen the capacity of media partners;
  • Strengthen anti-corruption institutions and authorities;
  • Advocate for legal reforms; and
  • Monitor the AUCPCC’s implementation.

As future needs are identified, says TI, additional tools and tactics will be added.

As the TI chapter in South Africa, CW did extensive work on how to evaluate and strengthen anti-corruption institutions. This included a joint submission, with the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, or Zondo commission, on the manipulation and deterioration of the country’s criminal justice institutions for personal and political gain, along with recommendations for strengthening them.

These recommendations included greater diligence in the appointment of top leaders in law enforcement organisations, competency and integrity assessments for senior managers in those institutions, audits to identify irregular appointments, and legislation to ensure greater transparency around the relationship between the executive and the senior leadership of criminal justice agencies. In its final report, the Zondo commission mentioned the CW/ISS submission and recommended that Parliament consider amending its rules to accommodate the proposals on appointments under its purview.

In Côte d’Ivoire, Social Justice capitalised on its strong working relationship with the government and is seeing great progress in bridging the gap between civil society and government institutions. The focus for TI-Rwanda has been to encourage whistle-blowers, both by working to ensure systems are in place to protect individuals who come forward and by raising awareness through the media.

Tunisian chapter I Watch, meanwhile, demonstrated the power of an empowered civil society and media in calling for more governmental transparency and accountability. “When the country’s new cabinet was formed in October 2021 after months of political turmoil, I Watch called on all new members of government to declare their assets online in accordance with the 2018 law on declaration of assets and interests. Their calls were heeded – the very next day, the Prime Minister of Tunisia and all newly appointed ministers filed their declarations.”

These four CSOs have made tangible gains in their diverse efforts to hold their governments accountable.

Download the TI advocacy toolkit Promoting the African Union Convention On Preventing and Combating Corruption: Tools and Tactics.

Corruption intensified impact of pandemic

As Africa’s overarching anti-corruption standard, the AUCPCC has been a major instrument in the fight against corruption since its enforcement in 2006 – but its implementation has been patchy and overall, not very effective. Ongoing corruption impedes economic development, denies citizens their right to a life of dignity and comfort, and perpetuates inequality.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, media around the world has been flooded with reports of corruption, mismanagement of funds, and theft of resources. In South Africa, the situation was complicated by flouting of procurement regulations which had been relaxed so that equipment and supplies could be obtained on an emergency basis.

The country was just one of many that were so affected, not least because of widespread corruption already present in government systems. “The neglect of transparency and accountability norms may have impacted on countries that were already facing governance challenges, thereby contributing to the further weakening of the fight against corruption,” said the AU in the run-up to AACD.

The proceedings of the day will set the stage for a discussion on why AU member states to work towards restoring public trust with efficient and effective evaluation mechanisms of Covid-19 funds. Technology – such as e-procurement systems, publicly accessible contract information and databases, and digitised budgets – must be harnessed to improve transparency and help reduce opportunities for corruption.