The Corruption Watch (CW) 2020 annual report, titled From Crisis to Action, reflects the extent to which all organisations and individuals in South Africa witnessed and experienced the massive impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.
During this period the public was increasingly outraged by the rampant corruption that emerged in relation to procurement and distribution of essential goods and services, including relief packages, necessitated by Covid-19. Along with these deplorable acts during a time of emergency, equally shocking were the cases of police and army brutality and abuse of power.
It is therefore not surprising that in 2020, CW recorded the second highest number of reports of corruption received in a calendar year since its inception in 2012, and importantly, the highest number of reports implicating the policing and healthcare sectors. A total of 4 780 incidents of corruption were reported last year, forming part of the just under 33 000 reports of corruption received by the organisation since 2012.
Despite the lockdown conditions that prevented in-person reports at the CW offices, on average 11 complaints were received daily from across South Africa, using available online and digital platforms to highlight the ongoing acts of graft in both the public and private sectors. As in previous years, the majority of reports came from Gauteng, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, commented: ‘While it’s pleasing to report that most of Corruption Watch’s key campaigns have continued throughout the lockdown periods and the volume of reports received by us have increased, it is with anger and sadness that we also have to report that the corrupt took advantage of the public health crisis to loot the procurement necessitated by Covid and even stooped as low as to steal from the various relief programmes.”
While the nation united to limit the ravages of Covid, some politicians, public servants and business people stuck their hands further into the public purse, Lewis added.
The most frequently reported forms of corruption during the year were maladministration (17%), procurement corruption (16%) and fraud (15%). These acts of corruption include issues such as:
- compliance issues;
- procurement irregularities;
- soliciting of kickbacks; and
- fraudulent activities in various state institutions, agencies and departments, as well as businesses.
Significantly, of these reports, 11% allege corruption in the South African Police Service (Saps), while 6% point to corruption in schools, 4% to corruption in the health sector, and 3% to corruption in the awarding of driver’s licenses.
The continued prominence of Saps-related corruption reports can be attributed not only to the policing environment in the context of the Covid-19 National State of Disaster and lockdown regulations, but also to the CW project that has for several years highlighted police abuse and mismanagement. Over the course of 2020, CW received almost double the number of police-related reports compared to 2019 – over 440 against some 250.
As a means of empowering the public to hold the Saps accountable, CW continued to develop its ground-breaking open data tool, the Veza online platform, throughout 2020. Veza launched in February 2021, and will enhance transparency in the Saps and encourage public participation in monitoring its performance in South Africa.
Health sector corruption
Similarly, the organisation received numerous reports relating to corruption in the health sector during 2020, with 149 of such cases received. The weakened healthcare system in South Africa has been a breeding ground for corruption for years. Under Covid-19, while visits to healthcare facilities may have been reduced, the cases of corruption featured in the CW reports centred on procurement corruption, employment corruption, and fraud, counting for 21%, 15% and 11% respectively.
The number of reports relating to Covid-19 corruption totalled 418, most of which occurred in critical sectors and institutions. These included the Department of Labour’s Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) benefits (37%), the distribution of food parcels by mainly local municipalities (20%), and the Saps (12%). The types of corruption that were exposed involved maladministration (34%), misappropriation of resources (22%) and procurement corruption (16%).
“An analogy has often been drawn between wartime and the fight against Covid. In wartime stealing the safety equipment and food of soldiers is regarded as treason and punished accordingly. So too in the war against Covid,” said Lewis.
Corruption in mining
Corruption Watch has for several years been tracking corruption in the mining sector, engaging with mining-affected communities across South Africa. Much of the corruption happens at the start of the mining application process, where communities are excluded from negotiations and shady deals are set up on their behalf, often without their knowledge. This has a profound impact on the health and livelihoods of those people who live close to mines, who are also robbed of benefits due to them.
A total of 81 reports of corruption were received in this sector during 2020, a drop from the previous year no doubt due to the absence of face-to-face engagements. However, work continued in highlighting the numerous vulnerabilities in both the mining application process as well as the mining royalties system, which affect some of the most poverty-stricken communities in the country. This research includes identifying gaps and weaknesses, and proposing recommendations to all stakeholders to improve transparency and accountability in the application process and distribution of funds to communities.
The area of strategic litigation forms an important part of CW’s work of holding entrusted leaders accountable, preventing abuse of the public purse, and setting important legal precedent. One key intervention concerned the Political Party Funding Act, whereby CW submitted a letter of demand in late 2020 that the president commence the implementation of the Act. The Presidency responded on Christmas Eve, stating that the Act would commence in April 2021.
One of the cornerstones of the work of Corruption Watch is the data received from whistle-blower reports throughout the year. These reports are used to conduct research into trends and hotspots of corruption and expand the public knowledge base, based as they are on people’s real-life experiences. This provides critical insight enabling CW to work with government and other stakeholders to eliminate loopholes and weaknesses in policy and legislation, and help reduce opportunities for corruption.
This work would not be possible without the actions of those resilient and determined whistle-blowers who continue to risk their livelihoods to expose the rampant corruption in the country. Corruption Watch urges the public to continue to report the corrupt and to work, as individuals and as a collective, towards creating a society more and more intolerant of the damaging consequences of their actions.
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Phemelo Khaas firstname.lastname@example.org 083 763 3472