Fed up with reckless state spending, tender fraud and rampant bribery, a community near Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, is showing what group action and proactivity can do to fight corruption. This community is our hero of the week.
An anti-corruption strategy was thrashed out at Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism (KLCBT) workshop this week, the first community-based anti-corruption initiative of its kind in the area.
Corruption Watch lent its weight to the initiative, and representatives of the organisation attended the workshop on 10 October. The aim was to constitute an anti-corruption strategy for the region to strengthen the community’s ability to ensure greater transparency and accountability in local business and local authorities. All main role players in the Ehlanzeni district, near Nelspruit, were invited to discuss the nature and content of such a strategy, including political parties, business leaders, religious leaders, trade unions and other civil society organisations.
The initiative was developed by members of the local business community who were concerned about increasing levels of corruption. Unaccounted for spending by provincial and local government departments, bribery and tender fraud, and corrupt relationships between businessmen and politicians are but a few examples of the challenges facing the region. Moreover, the community articulated a lack of accountability by those who commit corruption. This has created a space where corrupt practices have been able to flourish with no fear of exposure or retribution.
According to reports received by Corruption Watch, the issue in small towns is rife. In Mpumalanga, corruption occurs mainly in tender procurement and other abuses of government resources and power. Moreover, in places like Nelspruit and Ehlanzeni the impact of corruption is obvious, highlighted by the inequality of resource allocation. It is evident in where roads are built, where housing is developed, and where land is allocated, among other sectors. Individuals and communities need a platform to voice these concerns, as well as an integrated approach to fighting corruption.
But there are challenges: in Mpumalanga, the combination of corruption and politics has resulted in those who try to expose corruption becoming targets of attack. They often end up dead. Police records show that since 1998, at least 14 government officials or politicians have been killed. Among the dead are Johan Ndlovu, the chief of the Ehlanzeni District Municipality, who was killed in January 2011, and Sammy Mpatlantane, director of communications in the provincial department of arts and culture, who was killed in January 2010.
Jane Duncan, writing for the South African Civil Society Information Service, called assassination the ultimate form of censorship. So the question that the initiative aimed to answer was how to curb these trends and empower those who wanted to come forward to speak out.
Community-based initiatives like this are imperative in the fight against corruption. They will provide a basis for a culture of disclosure in the public and private sectors at a time when it is most needed. This community proves that the fight against corruption is not insulated and can be taken up by anyone from anywhere. Corruption Watch fully supports these types of initiatives by using its multitude of platforms and information-gathering mechanisms to ensure their voices are heard.