By Lorraine Louw

A lively debate about what constitutes corruption was held at the Public Service Commission’s centenary conference in Cape Town on 1 August.

Integrity, said Ayanda Dlodlo, the deputy minister of public service and administration in the opening presentation of the breakaway session “The fight against corruption”, was more than simply the absence of corruption. This sentiment was used in forming the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which will monitor compliance, institute disciplinary procedures for non-compliance, protect whistleblowers and report on financial management and spending.

She stressed that it would have no criminal jurisdiction, but where necessary would refer cases to law enforcement bodies. The bureau would fall under the national Department of Public Service and Administration.

Earlier, David Lewis, the executive director of Corruption Watch, had asked Minister of Public Service and Administration Lindiwe Sisulu why the bureau would have to be invited by provincial and local governments to investigate malfeasance. Surely, he said, this should be done automatically. However, Sisulu said that as a point of law, the bureau as a national government body could not automatically intervene in the lower two tiers of government.

Speaking in the breakaway session, at which he was a panellist, Lewis pointed out that many commentators misunderstood the purpose of the bureau as it was in the Public Administration Management Bill, which may change. “It is essentially a centralised disciplinary system.”

He underlined why it was so important for the public to participate in combatting corruption. It was, he said, not simply the task of the government and police.

Ivor Chipkin, of the Public Affairs Research Institute, which has offices at Wits University and Princeton in the United States, spoke about organisational responses to corruption. “Fighting corruption is essentially a battle of moral persuasion, and then policing,” he said.

“Corruption is strongly linked to non-compliance with organisational and operating procedures. Lots of incidents of corruption are not bad people doing bad things, but are the result of weak organisational structures.” In other words, it was frequently non-compliance.

His organisation researches public departments, and recently undertook a study of the South African Revenue Services. Why, the group asked, are South African public servants so massively non-compliant? Firstly, there was the historical perspective. Systems were simply not put in place properly and people were not properly trained.

“Structures on the ground were not put in place. A huge focus was put on management that sets up policies and strategies and draws up visions and missions, rather than on setting up actual operations – how to do the job. There is non-compliance because there is nothing to be compliant to.”

Lastly, of course, there were those people who were simply corrupt; they did not want to comply, but wanted to enrich themselves, Chipkin said.

Lewis responded that it was not a matter of non-compliance, but of petty corruption. “If a person takes the company car for the weekend because he wants to use it for his own gain, it may just be because he has no access to the arms procurement chain.” It was a difference of degree, but not intent – the intention of using state resources for personal enrichment.

This petty corruption may not be criminal and may not best be dealt with criminally. It may be best to deal with it differently, for example, fire the person, or have him struck off his professional roll. “We don’t need skilled policemen for this. We need skilled human resources people, of which there are many in the country,” Lewis said.

About corrupt people who had popular support, such as senior politicians, he said Corruption Watch dealt with this by publicising their misdeeds. “Corrupt people may begin to realise it will be personally costly to them. I believe this is happening already. I see that people are not prepared to tolerate corruption anymore.”

Chipkin said the country was looking at a whole new field of people who were not ethical. The auditor-general, he said, found senior politicians were stealing huge sums of money for themselves – in the order of R5.5-billion in 2012. “It is a problem in that the systems are dysfunctional. You can’t comply with something that doesn’t work, so we also need to focus on building organisations and effective management.”

Citizen participation

In his presentation, Lewis gave seven reasons why public participation was important in combatting corruption:

● Corruption is not an offence against an individual. It is an offence against the public, particularly the poor and the aspirant middle class, which means that it is an offence against an entire social group.

● Solutions to corruption lie as much in policy as in criminal enforcement and discipline. This cannot happen without public buy-in.

● Not all corruption is criminal, but it may require robust sanction. Sometimes the best sanction is not criminal punishment, but loss of job or public standing, for example.

● It is not always clear what corruption is, or what society thinks it is. There are uncertain areas, for example, when is a gift a social courtesy and when is it a bribe? These grey areas need to be clearly defined and there needs to be societal agreement on them.

● There are social consequences of perceived unfairness and unearned privileges. We see this in the service delivery protests at present.

● The economic consequences of corruption demand a public response. People seem to be obsessed with the direct cost of corruption, but the indirect costs are greater. For example, if a company sees that contracts are not won on merit but on kick-backs, it will affect the company’s efficiency.

● Finally, there are governance responses. Corruption generates distrust of public and private leadership. Once trust erodes, you cannot have a sensible debate. Every new programme, even good ones, will be greeted with scepticism and rejection as there will be a perception that someone will be benefitting unduly.

Corruption Watch’s experience in its 18 months of existence showed that the public was willing to respond. Yet there seemed to be a dichotomy in this, Lewis said. People were very angry about corruption, but there was also a sense of despair, that they could do nothing about it.

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Excerpt
Non-compliance or petty corruption – where does the one end and the other begin, and is there a difference? Panellists unpacked the debate at a breakaway session on corruption at the Public Service Commission’s centenary conference.