The fight against corruption got some heavy artillery today with the launch of Corruption Watch, an independent civil society institute formed to enable South Africans to report and confront corrupt activity in both the public and private sectors.
The launch, held at the Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, was attended by a range of government, civil society and business leaders, including Jay Naidoo, Mark Haywood, Mary Metcalfe and Njongonkulu Ndungane, as well as a large contingent of news media.
In his keynote speech, Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi lauded Corruption Watch as a “critical intervention of Cosatu and civil society that will help empower our people and successfully mobilise them”.
“We will not succeed in our quest to defeat this fast advancing enemy unless we can successfully mobilise and empower ordinary people, strengthen and build a people-centred developmental state, led by honest men and women, build independent state institutions that battle against corruption daily and transform the judiciary and media,” he said.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe also took to the podium, decrying corruption as a “cancer” in South African society.
The hashtag #corruptionwatch quickly became the second-highest trending topic on Twitter, with tweets quoting speakers and expressing support for the organisation and its potential for improving South African society.
As the launch kicked off, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee tweeted: “#corruptionwatch 100’s of people crowded into a jail on a Thursday morning to fight corruption. You’ve got to love our DNA – I do.”
New York Times Johannesburg bureau chief Lydia Polgreen added with: “Emergence of watchdogs from close allies of the ANC a sign of South Africa’s maturing democracy? Civil society blossoming. #CorruptionWatch.”
Daily Maverick journalist Sipho Hlongwane said: “From the sound of it, #CorruptionWatch should be an invaluable data mining tool. People will have to use it a lot, obviously.”
Corruption Watch’s work includes a newly launched website and an SMS hotline to receive reports of corruption and posting an online pledge for people to sign rejecting corruption.
The website (www.corruptionwatch.org.za) will be a repository of stories from the South African public, a secure portal for evidence-based whistle blowing activity, and a resource for information about corrupt activities in South Africa.
“By gathering, interpreting and acting on information from the public, the media and other sources, Corruption Watch will expose the corrupt and the misuse in particular of public money,” said Corruption Watch director David Lewis said. “We have formed this organisation to enable citizens to report and confront public and private sector individuals abusing their power and position.”
The data collected by the organisation will be used to reveal hotspots of corrupt activity around the country at municipal, provincial and national level. Where corruption is rife, Corruption Watch will seek partnerships with powerful organs of civil society to effect change.
“We want to help move the national conversation about corruption from resignation to action,” said Lewis.
Funded principally by donations from charitable foundations, Corruption Watch was initiated as a non-profit organisation by Cosatu’s office bearers, who were receiving an increasing number of complaints about corruption from its membership and the general public. Its board of directors is made up of Bobby Godsell, Adila Hassim, David Lewis, Mary Metcalfe, Mavuso Msimang, Njongonkulu Ndungane, Kate O’Regan, Zwelinzima Vavi, with Vuyiseka Dubula in the chair.
The website will be the main interface between the public and Corruption Watch, though the organisation can also be reached via SMS, Twitter and Facebook.
Through social media, people can share their stories about all manner of corruption, including but not exclusive to bribery, kickbacks and graft; influence peddling and patronage; and corruption in the work place where they’ve witnessed or been victims of favouritism, nepotism, ghost workers and illegitimate absenteeism. People may be able to report instances of bid-rigging, price-fixing, arbitrage and profiteering, cartels and collusion and tender and procurement irregularities.
The personal details of anyone reporting an incident will be kept confidential, but the information collected will be aggregated, enabling Corruption Watch to analyse the data, spot patterns and draw a “heat map” of when and where corruption is occurring.
“Information from crowd-sourcing offers a clear understanding of what is happening on the ground,” said Lewis. “While we won’t be in a position to investigate each and every report, the combined knowledge of people coming to our site will provide us with a powerful tool to build alliances with other institutions and NGOs. Strengthening the scale and voice of civil society will help South Africans defeat corruption.”
From some of the aggregated information – and occasionally a personal story that is representative of an endemic form of corruption – Corruption Watch will initiate research, commission reports and compile sufficient documentation to refer matters to the appropriate investigative or prosecutorial authority, or engage in policy-based advocacy work.
“Our first campaign,” said Lewis, “is asking people to sign a pledge online, or via SMS, refusing to participate in corruption and, if they are civil servants, committing to treating public resources with respect.”
The public can tell Corruption Watch about their experiences and sign the pledge on the website. To SMS, send the text “BRIBE” to report corruption or, to sign the pledge, type “PLEDGE” plus your first and last names to the number 45142 (the SMS costs R1). People can also talk about it on Facebook and Twitter (@corruption_sa or follow #corruptionwatch).