Corruption Watch: the ‘how’ – David Lewis


David Lewis
Executive Director
Corruption Watch


I want to start by thanking people who have been critical to getting CW off the ground. First, the guest speakers. I can’t tell you how important the support of Minister Radebe, Public Protector Madonsela and Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi and the institutions and constituencies that they represent is to the future of CW.


And then to the handful of individuals who set up CW, all of whom are working at this launch. We have set this up at lightning speed. And it’s been due entirely to a small number of people who have slaved away, mostly on a voluntary basis. This is exactly the way that an organisation like CW, which is going to rely on the voluntary commitment of millions of members of the South African public, should have been set up. It has already imparted a sense of personal commitment and collective effort to the organisation. This includes Xolani Gwala, the programme director at this launch.


Thirdly, to our funders. You will find them listed on our website. We have been supported by an array of funders, all of whom are aware that this is a risky, untried project using a model that is relatively, though not entirely, untested. Their willingness to support us is based on their commitment to CW’s objectives and thank them for that. You will see that they are largely South African philanthropic foundations. We have also received funding from international foundations who have funded projects seeking to promote accountability and transparency and good governance all over the world. And we have received support from a number of South African corporations.


And, fourthly those thousands of people, including those present at this launch, who have affirmed this project. Their support has consistently affirmed our belief that the vast majority of South Africans will support this project. And as you will hear, if the public does not support this project – in fact if the public does not participate in this project – it will not succeed.


I want to focus on how we are going to combat corruption. The ‘whys’ that underpin the necessity of tackling corruption and the complementarities between the public sector anti-corruption institutions have been eloquently outlined by our guest speakers, so I won’t deal with that. But amidst all the reams of data and policy proposals I want just to quote one particularly disturbing insight from an ISS survey published some 10 years ago which found that “Of most concern is that many citizens do not know how to report corruption, do not believe that doing so will change anything, and, despite good whistleblower provisions, are afraid of the consequences if they do report.”


Many of you will be wondering why Tebogo Sehlabane is sitting up here. She is not a cabinet minister, she is not the head of a constitutional body, she is not the leader of a mighty trade union federation. She is a ‘member of the public’. But she has done more to combat corruption than many of us in this room put together. Her story is very familiar up to a point – but then it becomes unusual: She and her fiancé were driving through Yeoville a few months back. He was speaking on his cell phone. They were stopped by the SAPS and he was told, quite correctly, that he would be fined R500 for talking on his cell phone while driving. When they made no objection to accepting the fine, they were told to accompany the police to the station where the ticket would be issued. They waited in the station for about 90 minutes and when they asked the police to move things on a bit they were told that Tebogo’s fiancé would be arrested and jailed for the weekend unless they paid R1500. Tebogo went to the ATM and withdrew the money which they paid and then left. So far, an all too common story. But then it becomes unusual. Tebogo immediately went on to Yeoville community website – – and told the users of the website of her experience and encouraged others to recount their own experiences of corruption. And not only that but they went back to see the station commander on the next working day and they eventually go the R1500 returned to her. Her story is now on our website and she is our first anti-corruption hero. Her conduct exemplifies that which we are asking of all others living in SA.


What CW will do is that it will gather information about corruption, it will analyse this information and it will disseminate it in a form that will assist the public in taking action to combat corruption. We will gather information from all the usual sources: the AG reports and other official sources, the media and the various consultant reports. However our main source of information will be members of the public who are going to be asked to report experiences of corruption on a web form. You will see that a certain part of the form will be publicly accessible precisely so that people are able to see what others are reporting and where they are reporting from – and part will be confidential, notably the names of the informants or any named as accused. This will not be the only way that people will be able to report – short code SMSs are another mechanism or people may approach us, through their organisations who may approach us directly, through email and through the mail.


What will happen with this information – certain reports will go to our investigators who will decide which to investigate further and then pass on to the law enforcement authorities. Certain allegations will be passed straight through to the law enforcement authorities. All the information gathered will go into the data bases that are set up on the website and they will be analysed to identify patterns and ‘hotspots’ of corruption. Certain of these hotspots will then be further investigated by our researchers whose reports will be posted on our website and to which the public and directly affected stakeholders will be asked to respond. For example, over the coming weeks we will post reports on the healthcare system and on the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department, both widely acknowledged hotspots of corruption. We will invite the public to respond to these reports but, in the case of the healthcare report, we will also ask the public health authorities as well as other stakeholders – professional bodies, unions, businesses and health policy experts – to respond. Theywill be invited to dialogue with the reports and with the members of the on the public who respond to the report. This dialogue will take place publicly on the website and in the media. The dialogue will be used to develop solutions to the corrupt practices and points of vulnerability that are identified. And it will be used to identify and mount campaigns through our communication platforms and through the media. For example the report or the respondents may identify a particularly egregious problem caused by corruption at a public hospital. This may be the subject of a campaign. Or it may identify a systemic problem that renders the procurement system particularly susceptible to corruption. Through the public dialogue a proposed solution will be suggested and may become the subject of a campaign.


Similarly, the JMPD report will also be posted and we will ask for public reaction and we will also ensure that the report and the reactions to the report are brought to the attention of the metro police authorities and to relevant industry bodies – for example the taxi associations – who will be asked to respond publicly to the report. Arising from this dialogue we will identify pressing problems and develop campaigns aimed at addressing these.


Other data we may not develop further into reports but we will publicise these data and again hand on to interested stakeholders. For example, we may get reports that indicate gross corruption problems affecting housing allocation in a particular area. This may not require an in-depth report – the frequency of the complaints will be sufficient prima facie evidence of corruption. We will publicise this on our website and we will seek out local civil society associations and the responsible authorities and we will give the latter an opportunity to respond to the complaints of the residents.


In short our model is to get citizens talking to each other and to provide them with a powerful collective platform that will enable them to talk to those, in both the public and private sector, who sell, purchase and deploy public resources. Out of these dialogues we will identify problems and develop solutions and demands that will be translated into campaigns.


On the campaign page of the website you will see that our first campaign is to get as many people as possible to sign the CW pledge – this can be done on our website or by SMSing, at a cost of R1, the word PLEDGE as well as your FIRST AND LAST NAMES to 45142. Copies of the pledge are available in the room but it essentially commits the signatories to neither pay nor take bribes, to obey and encourage others to obey the law and to treat public resources respectfully and to act with integrity in my dealings with government. You’ll see the beginnings of a possible second campaign. This comes in the form of an article written for the site by Steven Powell, a partner at the law firm, ENS, that focuses on business’ involvement in corruption and exploring alternatives mechanisms for discouraging business from getting involved in corruption. He explores US and UK legislation and makes a proposal here that suggests that the JSE consider the adoption of anti-corruption procedures and policies as part of its listing requirements. I have no doubt that there would be other views – we would welcome opinions expressed on Powell’s suggestions and other views. We want to work with business. I imagine that those businesses opposed to corruption would want to demonstrate where they stand by putting a link to our website on their own websites; in fact we are going to challenge businesses to put a link to our website on their employees home pages.


And we are calling on people to report experiencesof corruption, which again they should do preferably on the website or by SMSing the word BRIBE to 45142. Again SMSs will cost R1. I would emphasise that we would want public servants who are offered a bribe to report their experiences in the same way as we would expect members of the public to report having been asked for a bribe. We have already received some very serious allegations.


To pre-empt a likely question or criticism, I want to say something about our choice of an electronic platform as our principal means of communication with the public. It will be said – and on the face of it not unreasonably – that many of the people most grievously affected by corruption are not internet connected. We have thought long and hard about this. It will not be the only form of communication. We are using short code SMS’s, we can be approached directly, although our phone access will be limited – that is, we will not operate an elaborate call-centre – and we expect to be approached through civil society organisations who can help their members to report online.


However we are unabashedly based in web technology and social media and we think that it is perfectly defensible. You have seen parts of our website; we have a Facebook page and we already have some 200 followers on Twitter. If you look at some of the best known examples of social movements rooted in social media you will find that they frequently occur in countries as poor, as unequal and as poorly connected as our own. For example Kenyans developed the Ushahidi crowdsourcing and mapping application during the post-election uprising in 2007. This technology has subsequently been used to find survivors after the Haitian earthquake and the Japanese tsunami. ‘Citizen Cartographers’ in Nigeria and Tanzania report water problems and broken pipes by SMS; students in Dar es Salaam map roads, drains and streetlights on their cellphones for an urban upgrading project; like Corruption Watch, sites in India and Kenya – the ‘Ipaidabribe’ websites – collect stories from the public and fed-up citizen and journalist bloggers in Russia and China regularly report public figures living beyond their means or enjoying special privileges. One Chinese site has simply published pictures of the wrist watches of identified public servants and party officials. Sound familiar?!


So we’re confident that if people want to contact us badly enough they will do so and if necessary they will find a way of doing it on the internet. Before we even had an office, a staff, telephones or emails, we were contacted by people in Limpopo and the rural EC. We will build alliances with organisations whose work is focused in the marginalised areas and they will assist in connecting those on the technological margins. The fact is that these technologies are profoundly democratising and we tend to deploy them to the end of helping to build a stronger democracy in South Africa. And, of course, we will want to work closely with the mainstream media while always respecting each other’s different pressures and imperatives.


That’s about what I want to say. You will see many other facilities on the website. We have a news page on which we have written backgrounders to some of the big corruption stories of the day. We have started a web page that defines the rights and duties of those confronted by corruption; we have a page that asks what corruption is? We will, in collaboration with the Sunday Times, be doing an agony aunt column each week in the Business Times where readers pose dilemmas – the first one will be in the paper this Sunday and we will post it on the website on Monday.


So sign our pledge; report incidents of corruption; engage with us in whatever way suits u best. And above all tell your friends to do the same. It’s time that we struck back at those who would destroy what so many fought for.