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Are you faced with an ethical dilemma? Are you witnessing corruption but don’t know what to do about it? Ask the team of Corruption Watch experts what to do by writing to: and mark your letter ‘Dear Corruption Watch’.

Dear Corruption Watch,

Each year South Africa loses up to 20% of its procurement budget - R30 billion - to corruption, fraud and mismanagement. Overseas newspapers report now that South Africa has lost its claim to the "moral high ground" and are no longer a "beacon against tyranny". 

Corruption is in the headlines every day and old corruption ghosts, like the "arms deal", haunt us.

Why must so many countries fall prey to the abuse of power and widespread corruption, particularly on this continent? Is South Africa just the last but inevitable victim? Is there anything we can do? – Incontinent

Dear Incontinent,

South Africa's corruption statistics are disturbing and unacceptable. We sometimes lose sight of their impact when all we hear about are numbers. How many economically and socially invisible people could have been given a chance at a dignified life with the money that has effectively been stolen from them? How many houses built, taps installed, jobs created?

Most countries struggle with corruption, including superpowers and all of the so-called BRICs countries – the one thing the BRICs countries have in common, if anything, is corruption. Therefore it is unjust to think that corruption and fraud are uniquely South African problem. Indeed, it may perpetuate our challenges by discouraging financial investment and, more importantly, eroding the symbolic investment and practical engagement of our own citizens.

South Africa is actually well positioned not to degenerate into a corrupt, failed state. In fact, if we add anything to our new BRICs membership, it would be good governance and rational institutions. Our laws and governance frameworks provide solid scaffolding to build on, in stark contrast, for example, to state censorship in China and political retaliation against whistle-blowers in Russia.

Consider the work that our public protector has been doing; the media exposes corruption every day and the Protected Disclosures Act is designed to protect whistle-blowers. And we have a strong community of forensic practitioners at work in South Africa, which represents fraud investigators, lawyers, forensic accountants, and digital and cyber forensic specialists.

Perhaps most importantly – and here’s where you can play a part – have been the efforts made by individual citizens and civil society groups. Hugh Glenister fought all the way to the Constitutional Court – and won – because he believed the dissolution of the most effective corruption-fighting unit, the Scorpions, was wrong. Other good law has come from cases around the arms deal. The Asset Forfeiture Unit has been effective in retrieving ill-gotten gains using the courts. And organisations like Freedom under Law, Right2Know give legal impetus to political action and help ensure a democratic South Africa free of corruption.

Corruption and fraud are surmountable given appropriate economic policies and a willingness on the part of citizens to engage. We cannot outsource our conscience, expecting government alone to solve the problems of poverty and inequality. We own our ethical challenges collectively, and they demand a collective response. Indeed, the Institute of Commercial Forensic Practitioners as regulator of forensic practitioners are hosting a conference next week covering the “Social and economic impact of Commercial Crime,” which includes the response of civil society to corruption.

We would encourage your participation to isolate and shame acts of corruption. Sign the pledge on our website. Join a rate-payers association, or a community policing forum to demand local accountability. Sign up for membership in institutions fighting for human rights or access to justice. Government employees are paid by our taxes and work for us. Business people are accountable to shareholders and pension fund investors who own their companies. Remind the powerful that they are there to serve, not betray our trust.

Take a stand and report an incident of corruption. This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times Business Times on 15 July 2012.
Each year South Africa loses up to 20% of its procurement budget – R30 billion – to corruption, fraud and mismanagement. Overseas newspapers report now that South Africa has lost its claim to the “moral high ground” and are no longer a “beacon against tyranny”.