Results of a study on anti-corruption bodies in the Southern African region were released in the region towards the end of July. Titled Effectiveness of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Southern Africa: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the report was commissioned by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa).

Using interviews, field research, literature reviews, and current debates and discussions, the study aimed to “investigate in depth the reasons for the successes and failures of dedicated anti-corruption bodies in Southern Africa”. It also assessed the contribution of anti-corruption agencies and mechanisms to good governance and democracy, putting the spotlight on regional anti-corruption bureaux (ACBs) in terms of their relevance, roles, necessary resources and preconditions for their performance, and possible needs for alternative and/or complementary measures or mechanisms.

It is hoped that the findings of the study will improve anti-corruption efforts at both national and regional level. “Those who are corrupt are becoming sophisticated. It’s important that we share notes so that we fight corruption,” said Malawi’s minister of justice and constitutional affairs, Samuel Tembenu, at the launch of the Osisa report in that country on 27 July. “Corruption is a very serious crime … wrongdoers must be punished.”

Download the report.

Corruption and politics

The corruption in SADC, like most corruption in Africa, is a deliberate executive machination, the report states. In South Africa, corruption is linked to politics in two ways: it is resorted to as a means to attain political influence, and it impacts the effectiveness and legitimacy of state institutions including institutions of democracy. When political elites are facing allegations of corruption and impropriety, they tend to launch an attack on state institutions that are tasked with investigating, and this undermines genuine investigations into corruption, writes respected political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga, who compiled the section on South Africa.

The Constitution serves as the basis for anti-corruption initiatives in the country, and much of the country’s corruption-fighting capacity lies in a decentralised anti-corruption mechanism. The challenge in South Africa, however, is that the powers to make crucial appointments in key anti-corruption related institutions is primarily with the executive. In 2015 former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, speaking at the Mapungubwe Institute and the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute at Unisa in Pretoria, remarked that the concentration of powers given to Zuma to appoint and remove an official, was something the country ignored at its own risk.

Mathekga also pointed out that South Africa’s numerous credible corruption-fighting institutions are subverted to fit political interests. South Africa is losing much-needed resources to corruption, and weak leadership in institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority undermines the broader criminal justice system in the country.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are also important in the fight against corruption, and government must provide the space and opportunity for anti-corruption CSOs to operate. The often antagonistic relationship between the government and CSOs is detrimental to the fight against corruption, Mathekga notes, and hinders the development of any collective efforts.

Mathekga makes a few recommendations. He advises South Africa to put its affiliation to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to better use, committing to good governance and building a more credible public service. “The first two OGP Country Action Plans are a missed opportunity for South Africa to show a genuine commitment to the fight against corruption,” writes Mathekga.

Meanwhile, statements by prominent politicians along the lines of ‘corruption is a western thing’ will generate national ambivalence towards corruption in the country, he writes, and  there needs to be more public awareness regarding the effect of corruption on society.

Mathekga describes the canny exploitation by President Jacob Zuma of the long-standing allegations of corruption against him, using anti-corruption institutions as political tools to drive the notion of the western agenda. Zuma shrugged off hundreds of corruption charges, painted himself as the victim of a political conspiracy, and became president of both the ANC and the country. But it is one thing to claim that a person is innocent until proven guilty, Mathekga writes, and quite another to actively support alleged perpetrators of corruption.

Furthermore, the ongoing maladministration within state owned entities such as Eskom, Transnet, Prasa and South African Airways is indicative of the growing networks of corruption and patronage in the public sector. These remain the weakest link when it comes to policy implementation in the country, particularly given that they largely remain host to ‘networks of patronage’.

Mathekga’s recommendations can broadly be divided into institutional reform and societal agency:

  • Institutional reforms
    • Government needs to consider using the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative to commit to fighting corruption.
    • There needs to be stability of political leadership within the justice and crime prevention cluster.
    • The process of appointment to key positions needs to be rethought.
    • Although South Africa has a decentralised anti-corruption machinery, there is a need to create synergy between the collective of institutions within it.
  • Societal agency
    • Citizens need to be made more aware of the impact of corruption on their daily lives.
    • It is therefore necessary to activate the demand for anti-corruption initiatives among communities.

Legislation is in place

Africa has its fair share of conventions that set out the broad parameters of confronting major democratic development challenges such as corruption, says the Osisa report. The African Union adopted the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) in July 2003. The AUCPCC entered into force on 5 August 2006. In 2007, the AU adopted the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), which highlights the negative impact of corruption on elections, democracy and governance and charges AU member states with taking necessary measures to confront these challenges.

At sub-regional level, the SADC Protocol against Corruption, which entered into force in August 2003, seeks to promote and strengthen not only the development of mechanisms to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption in the public and private sector, but also co-operation between the parties.

At national level, SADC member states have established various laws, policies and institutions to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption.

However, corruption has not decreased – rather, it has increased, according to various studies and analyses. Recently the matter of illicit financial flows (IFFs) has come under the spotlight but, the report notes, legislatures, investigative, police and tax authorities, and justice systems still have a way to go before they match the levels of sophistication in corruption and IFFs.

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