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By Busi Mavuso
First published on Moneyweb

As part of our mission to combat corruption and improve ethical conduct in South African business, we have funded the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) to produce a guide for South African companies to fight corruption. Combating crime and corruption and promoting the rule of law is among Business Leadership South Africa’s (BLSA) top priorities, essential to improving the business environment.

The guide was released last week and is available here. Drawing on the detailed findings of the Zondo commission last year, it sets out an approach that will help companies build their resistance to corruption of all kinds. It gives companies a comprehensive, workable plan to tackle corruption.

The guide asks an important question: will the Zondo commission prove to be an inflexion point in the fight against corruption?

In decades to come, will we be able to look back at it as an important moment or merely a footnote in a sordid history? Other countries have managed to turn the tide against corruption, like Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1970s and Rwanda and Indonesia more recently. Will we be able to say the same of South Africa?

Clearly the business sector has a pivotal role to play. While corruption is often thought of as emanating from the public sector, prominent businesses were also deeply implicated in state capture. Corporate corruption scandals like those at Steinhoff, Tongaat Hulett, and EOH are obvious examples of businesses that had endemic corruption at their core.

Business must come together to proactively work against it. It will not happen without a concerted and deliberate effort. But it also needs effective law enforcement to operate too, as the international examples of success against corruption make clear.

That is why as BLSA we also strongly support the criminal justice system through Business Against Crime and our agreement with the National Prosecuting Authority to provide resources.

Eight key anti-corruption principles

The Gibs report draws on several international frameworks, from ISO standards to the OECD’s anti-bribery convention in developing proposals for companies to establish anti-corruption guidelines. It sets out eight key principles that should be incorporated into an anti-corruption policy. Briefly, these are:

  • The tone from the top or the role of the board – ensuring that the right culture is set and insulating anti-corruption efforts in the business from outside pressure.
  • Adopting and publishing an anti-corruption policy – doing so publicly and demonstrating a commitment to zero tolerance.
  • Forming and structuring an anti-corruption function – an autonomous department with lines of reporting directly to the board.
  • Substance of the anti-corruption policy should cover rules on lobbying, donations, procedures for awards of large contracts, effective roles for internal auditors and more.
  • Regular risk assessments to assess how risks are shifting in a dynamic environment and reviewing live contracts for risks.
  • The role of whistle-blowers – a clear process for handling whistle-blowers including protection.
  • The role of reparations – having an approach to determining reparations when something does go wrong.
  • Guidelines for ethical lobbying – any political activities by companies must have a clear board-approved policy.

The report provides more detail for these guidelines and I encourage members to engage with them and assess how they could be developed and applied to their businesses.

The report also calls for greater collective action in tackling corruption. BLSA is obviously an important forum for collective action and our members have all signed our integrity pledge that is focused on crushing corruption. That pledge is consistent with many of the recommendations in the Gibs report. The efforts of BLSA in supporting the criminal justice system and developing guidance on corruption for business represent the collective actions of our members.

However, the report calls for further collective action including formal forums to coordinate efforts to combat corruption including managing reports of corruption. We have experience in coordinating business efforts against crime through, as an example, our Eyes and Ears initiative in partnership with the police. We will be engaging on these recommendations and how we can jointly act as business to combat corruption.

Busi Mavuso is CEO of Business Leadership South Africa