Speech by Minister Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, on the occasion of the Corruption Watch launch, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 26th January 2012
General Secretary of COSATU, Mr Zwelinzima Vavi;
Public Protector, Adv Thuli Madonsela;
Founders of the Corruption Watch Initiative;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to thank you and express our delight as government at being invited to such an important occasion, to launch the institution to be known as Corruption Watch. There is no doubt that corruption is a serious challenge facing our democratic transformation. Many have appropriately defined corruption analogously as a cancer that eats at the fibre of our development, such that where it occurs, it leaves the various developmental initiatives morally bankrupt. As you would know, all our efforts at development to transform South Africa from the design of the apartheid past is informed by the ideals of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society. However, corruption subverts this important ideal of prosperity for all.
Recently we were dismayed to learn of a case where what is known as an RDP house was built for a whooping R16 million! As it transpired, a service provider was awarded a tender to build over 700 houses, but consequently short changed not only the government, but also the deserving poor people who were the intended beneficiaries. This is what COSATU calls tenderpreneurs, and if there is merit in the published media reports, they also defrauded the taxpayer and by extension the entire nation! This reads like a typical and familiar story running from a broken record! The prevalence of such disheartening stories has been a concern for all of us in government, business, labour and the broader civil society.
It is important to recognise right at the outset that our transformative Constitution is founded on effective and progressive values that are geared towards the transformation spearheaded by our Developmental State, and also on the fundamental principles that counter all forms of corruption known and those still to be conceived in the future. The commitment to an open and democratic society which permeates our Constitution, the doctrine of separation of powers espoused in the Constitution, and the independent and strong judiciary and the foundational rule of law principle, all underpin the values of accountability and responsiveness enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution, which represents the will of the people, is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Freedom Charter adopted by our people in 1955. It entails the most effective weaponry to rid the state and society of corruption in all its manifestations.
The institutions supporting constitutional democracy and other institutions including the judiciary are entrusted with constitutional authority which they must exercise independently and free from any form of undue influence. Not only is the State barred from interfering with these institutions, but it is enjoined by the Constitution to support them through legislation and other measures to ensure their effectiveness, independence and impartiality. The ANC-led Government has, in carrying out the mandate of the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this country, enacted progressive and effective laws to give effect to these fundamental values in the Constitution. I do not wish to attempt to enlist all the Acts that seek to strengthen and consolidate all efforts geared to uprooting crime and corruption, as most have dominated public debate in the recent past.
The reports and findings of the Public Protector and the Auditor-General, including the recent published report regarding the audit findings of National Departments and Provinces are still fresh in our minds.
It is therefore befitting that as we celebrate the ANC’s centenary, we take stock of the gains we have made in the 17 years of democracy, including the triumphant battle we continue to wage against crime and corruption. The values of openness and transparency that underpin our participatory democracy have made it possible that ordinary citizens and the media report and debate incidences of corruption freely, a fact which I am certain will become evident during the on-going Commission on the Press headed by former Chief Justice Pius Langa. These are the fruits of the selfless struggle waged by the ANC in its 100 years of existence.
Not only did the laws and policies of the Apartheid and colonial regimes obscure and hide the most heinous forms of corruption, but they also helped ferment the scourge of corruption that threatens to erode the gains of our hard-fought democracy. It is for that reason that it has become hard for pessimists and denialists to acknowledge and embrace the strides our Government has made after putting crime and corruption as one of the key priories of Government alongside education, rural development and job creation. It has instead become easy for them to criticise Government and sow disharmony, when they know deep down in their hearts that previous regimes sponsored laws and programmes that censored all efforts to expose corruption.
As government we have taken progressive steps to combat corruption, which hitherto has been a persisted culture both in our private and public sectors. Our aim is to ensure that criminals must be denied the opportunity to benefit from ill-gotten wealth. The achievements of the Asset Forfeiture Unit prove without doubt that economic crimes can be successfully fought within the Rule of Law. For the first time in the history of this country, the so called “top dogs” of crime are made to face justice and give account of their assets. It is therefore necessary to do an appraisal of the achievements of the AFU, with the recall of some of the important cases such as;
- The Gems case where the AFU achieved a settlement that involved over R60 million in excess interest charges being paid back to over 30 000 workers by a micro lender;
- The freezing of an estimated R1.5 billion of alleged proceeds of crime in the David King matter.;
- The Delport case, in which the AFU obtained a freezing and seizure order of R80 million and to date this is the largest value of assets ever seized in a single case within South Africa;
- The Boekhoud case where the AFU seized assets worth about R100 million, including a platinum refinery in the United Kingdom;
- In two of its most important matters to date, the AFU has also seized property worth more than R10 million from Cape Town attorneys Mohammed and Chohan who had allegedly defrauded the RAF and impoverished accident victims of their money.
In the past 10 years, the AFU working with its partners, has made a significant impact on crime and there has been a constant increase in the number and value of cases done. We can be proud that we are making progress.
To date, the AFU has:
- Frozen assets to the value of more than R3.35 billion in more than 1 700 cases
- Forfeited assets to the value of more than R950 million in more than 1 400 cases
- Deposited more than R230 million into the Criminal Asset Recovery Account (CARA) and the proceeds to be channelled to help further fight corruption;.
- Repaid more than R400 million to victims of crime;
- Clarified the law by obtaining 243 judgements, including 6 judgments in the Constitutional Court and 23 in the Supreme Court of Appeal’
We are however agreed that such initiatives are not enough until we have corruption nipped in the bud in every facet of government, of our economy, of various civil society institutions and in the private sector.
While we quote high statistics to prove our success, we need also to discourage the small levels of corruption which occur at lower levels of society, because it is these small bribes of drinks, lunches, teas, traffic fines, small presents and being paid small amounts for assisting in jumping the queue as we have been told is happening at universities during registration periods, which graduates into a culture of impunity and high levels of corruption. Once we create the impression that corruption is a way of South African life, we would have lost the battle in a long war against this scourge. An African saying declares that a baby mamba is a mamba!
Recently the Postbank was defrauded of close to R43 million in a space of three days when most of us were on holiday with our guards down. What is clear in this case is that our vigilance should be 24/7 and 365 days a year! No stone should be left unturned to ensure the safety and security of our assets, particularly from the new wave of cyber-crime that equally threatens the security of private and public assets. When cybercrime occurs, indications are usually that it is an “inside job”, with some of the criminals being incubated within the institutions they should be safeguarding.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The integrity of our democracy was recently further celebrated and signified as a symbol of the “Flame of Democracy” that was lit by the Deputy President on these Constitutional Hill premises. In this instance, corruption seeks to extinguish this flame that shines as hope for all our people. In the article, “Democracy has left the building”, Shalini Kagal makes the following telling appraisal on the “flame of democracy”:
“Once upon a time, many countries decided to light up a new flame of their own and keep it burning bright. Every person in the country gave a bit of his light and soon, there was a huge flame that burned bright for its people. A flame that stood for energy, a flame that promised equality for all, freedom for all, security for all who lived in its light. The flame was called Democracy and it was well named because it was of the people, by the people, for the people.”
In warning against the pitfalls of taking the fundamentals of democracy for granted, Shalini Kagal continues to assert the following:
“The change happened very slowly and it happened in all the countries that had the flame of Democracy alight. The people who kept giving to keep the flame alight didn’t notice what was happening and as long as they felt the flame they had lit was burning, they felt secure and went about their daily business as usual.
Slowly, the shadow figures moved in, casting their long shadows of greed and hunger for power on the light that burned. The flame that had been lit by the people was slowly being controlled by a few who definitely did not have the people’s interests at heart. One day, all that was left of the flame were a few glowing embers and when it left the building, no one noticed and no one cared.”
Indeed, as Shalini Kagal would attest, the rot crept in slowly like cancer until the entire national moral fibre was completely rotten! We will not and we must not allow our revolutionary agenda to be subverted by a few corrupt officials!
I therefore sincerely hope that today’s launch of this important initiative, will ensure that our people are not mere passive recipients of the various values of our democracy but important role players in combating corruption. Otherwise, as indicated by Shalini Kagal, we risk loosing this “flame of democracy” that saw our celebrated peaceful triumph over apartheid, a flame which remains a beacon of hope to the world, as recently attested to by the British Prime Minister David Cameroon. There is no iota of doubt that without the various voices and work by civil society at large, including the media and labour, our democracy would be poorer.
On many occasions, we do not appreciate fully the role of the media as an important watchdog over corruption and we fail to applaud it for its sterling role in combating corruption. Much of the corruption has been exposed because we have built institutions and broader enabling environment for the people to expose acts of corruption. It is the freedom of the press that is protected by our progressive Constitution that enables the media to unravel all forms of corruption in our country. In fact the social awareness about corruption is indicative of the freedoms and enabling platforms to speak about and report on corruption. We would like the media to continue in its tireless effort to expose corruption wherever it rears its ugly head.
Today we are again proud as government, that this important leg in the fight against corruption is established as it helps to further consolidate our shared work and responsibility in combating corruption. The existence of Corruption Watch will bear testament to the fact that this cancer of corruption can only be defeated with the concerted efforts of all our people. The role of civil society in spearheading the launch of Corruption Watch is therefore commended. We are confident that Corruption Watch will be an independent voice and barometer on the strides we, as a nation, are making towards combating corruption. It will also ensure that everyone knows that there is nowhere to hide where corruption is concerned. I have alluded to the strong architectural design of our constitutional framework to address corruption especially within the public sector. I am certain that Corruption Watch will also put binoculars in the private sector where some of the most evil forms of corruption that threaten development of our fledgling economy and social transformation occur.
As government, we will continue to work for a better life for all, a vision derived from the letter and spirit of our Constitution. This vision seeks to attend to the disparities and backlogs occasioned by decades of apartheid misrule and centuries of colonialism. It is what in political terms we have termed a “National Democratic Society” where the values of our constitution would find the living expression for all to enjoy. This vision speaks of the need to provide houses for those who cannot afford them. It speaks of the provision of water and sanitation for all our people. It speaks of connecting electricity not only to do away with the environmental degradation caused by the use of firewood, but also to improve the standard of living for the poor. It also speaks of providing education to all our children and the youth, so as to restore the dignity and pride that was taken away by apartheid. This vision also speaks of providing jobs so that every citizen partakes in the economic activities of our country as a legitimate and dignified source of living. In the intervening period ahead of realising most of our ideals, this vision speaks of providing safety net for the poor through various grants.
All these initiatives, as I have said, are our interpretation of the broad vision enshrined in our Constitution which enjoins all of us to work towards a better nation and country. Corruption then subverts all these initiatives inspired by the greed of corrupt officials. What corruption does, it loudly proclaims that the blood of Solomon Mahlangu and the various martyrs who fought for our constitutional democracy to have been shed in vain. Corruption is a criminal act that steals away the fruits of our liberation struggle and we concur that it must be declared the new enemy as apartheid was a common enemy for all justice loving people! It is for this reason that we welcome the initiatives by various civil society formations to launch this important institution that will help combat the threat that corruption poses to our democratic transformation. In particular, we must note and express our gratitude to the continued activism against corruption demonstrated by the leadership of COSATU. It is an affirmation that the working class, and by extension the vast majority of our country, is against corruption! We are assured that with COSATU putting its shoulder to the wheel, we have recruited each and every one of their 2 million plus members employed in the public and private sectors, as partners and combatants in the fight against this scourge.
As government, we note the initiatives of Corruption Watch with appreciation and believe that it will exploit the unchartered territory in the private sector, in particular. We trust that it would augment Government’s efforts in uprooting corruption and its endeavours will be targeted at corruption. I make emphasis in this regard because for corruption to take effect, both public and private sector officials are often in a tango in their collusion to defraud our nation of proper development. I therefore look forward to Corruption Watch’s positive contribution to the concerted efforts of the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster to fighting crime and corruption and making South Africa a safe and corruption free society and in turn ensure a better life for all!
Just to remind you of the World Bank’s definition on corruption is that it is “behaviour on the part of officials in the public and private sectors, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves and/or those close to them, or induce others to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed.”
This definition enjoins all of us to fight corruption both in the public and private sectors. It speaks to the core of the challenge, which is abuse of power to dispense wealth in favour of oneself or immediate families or friends. In this, for corruption to take effect, there must be the primary relationship of corruptor and corruptee, based on the power to dispense corruption by either of the two. This web of relations bent on committing crime escalates into a culture that can spiral out of control and ultimately undermine the integrity, stability and legitimacy of the State. We have seen how corruption in its advanced stages leads to political unrest and underdevelopment from experiences around the world. Here at home, we have seen how our delivery programmes get undermined resulting, amongst others, to social protests. In many instances, these protests are fuelled by the knowledge that government has actually allocated resources for various developmental purposes, but that these resources were then hijacked by greedy tendepreneurs. As President Zuma alluded with regards to the negative impact of corruption, and I quote: "It inhibits socio-economic development and contributes to delays in delivering services to our people," (Sowetan, 22 November 2011)
In government, it is mainly through officials managing procurement who “perfect” the system to advance their own greedy ends. In order to succeed we must ensure that all levels of management in the public sector are dealt with harshly, irrespective of rank or status in society.
As we launch Corruption Watch which encompasses the important role of the broader civil society, I hope that our people at large will not only ask what our country or government must do to combat corruption, but also what is it that they can do in the context of the various enabling tools to combat corruption.
Allow me once more to thank the organisers of this very important occasion for their kind invitation. As some have spoken about so called gravy train, perhaps we may now speak about the anti-corruption train to which Corruption Watch is now an important member. Also allow me once again to single out the trade union federation COSATU and its Secretary General Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, on their important role on this launch, not forgetting of course the various partners, some as I understand, have actually pledged financial support on this grand initiative.
It is important that we collectively send the unambiguous message to all criminally minded people that we have both the will and capacity to act against the malice of corruption. Together we must show that the rule of law will forever reign supreme as the glue that binds us as proud citizens of a corruption free and prosperous society! Together we must work towards building a society where people desist from crass materialism, conspicuous consumption and lavish lifestyles in favour of honest living based on hard work. As the ruling party, the ANC NEC made resolution to increase efforts at combating corruption wherever it rears its ugly head and irrespective of who is involved. This is in line with the oath by which every new ANC member swears upon joining our glorious movement which also captures the culture and character of a typical ANC member throughout the past 100 years, and I quote:
“I, ……………, solemnly declare that I will abide by the aims and objectives of the African National Congress as set out in the Constitution, the Freedom Charter and other duly adopted policy positions, that I am joining the organisation voluntarily and without motives of material advantage or personal gain, that I agree to respect the Constitution and the structures and to work as a loyal member of the organisation, that I will place my energies and skills at the disposal of the organisation and carry out tasks given to me, that I will work towards making the ANC an even more effective instrument of liberation in the hands of the people, and that I will defend the unity and integrity of the organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism”
This oath captures the spirit and letter of the liberation movement, and to be corrupt or join the organisation for the express purpose of material gain it is to contradict the fundamental policy, culture and tradition of the ANC.
In my capacity as Chair of the JCPS cluster, I make this undertaking to ensure that we provide decisive leadership in this regard.
I thank you!
Speech by Minister Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, on the occasion of the Corruption Watch launch, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 26th January 2012