Dear Corruption Watch
I see the president signed the Public Administration Management Act in December, establishing yet another anti-corruption agency. What contribution is this intended to make to combating corruption? Does this not duplicate existing anti-corruption agencies?
The Public Administration Management Act created a gamut of new institutions that are intended to help address corruption in public administration. The agency you're probably referring to is the Public Administration, Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit. The unit's functions are set out in relatively vague terms and are to:
- Provide technical assistance and support to institutions in all spheres of government regarding the management of ethics, integrity and disciplinary matters relating to misconduct in the public administration;
- Develop the norms and standards on integrity, ethics, conduct and discipline in the public administration;
- Build capacity within institutions to initiate and institute disciplinary proceedings into misconduct;
- Strengthen the government's oversight of ethics, integrity and discipline and, where necessary, in cases where systemic weaknesses are identified, to intervene;
- Promote and enhance good ethics and integrity within the public administration; and
- Co-operate with other institutions and organs of state to fulfil its functions under this section.
In short, the unit appears to be intended not to duplicate the work of anticorruption agencies, but to help government departments do what they should already be doing: investigating corruption and disciplining those guilty of it.
You're right to be sceptical of the unit's work. If government departments aren't already committed to fighting corruption, the new unit won't be much help – and if those government departments are already fighting corruption, the new unit is hardly necessary.
Ultimately, whether government departments are going to address corruption in their ranks turns on whether the heads of those departments are committed to rooting out corrupt employees. The new unit won't help much on that front.
The one function of the unit that could shake things up is the power to "intervene" when systemic weaknesses are identified in a department's ethics, integrity and discipline. But even here there is good reason to be sceptical. The unit can perform its functions only in consultation with the concurrence of the executive head of the department in question.
If there are systemic weaknesses in a department, those weakness would often have developed with the knowledge or approval of the executive head in question. And heads of corrupt departments are unlikely to agree to the unit intervening in their department in those circumstances.
Nevertheless, the power may still be useful to newly appointed heads who come from outside the corrupt department. These new brooms can then call in the unit when they know that their own department lacks the skills or willpower to make the necessary changes and weed out corruption.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times