Dear Corruption Watch
You recently suggested that the best way to address South Africa’s problems with corruption would be to establish a single agency responsible for tackling corruption. But are you confident that a single anti-corruption agency is the answer? If one is set up and fails for any reason, then we would have nothing at all between us and the hyenas.
There are many obstacles to the creation of a successful anti-corruption agency.
One of them is the one you point to: what if the agency is established but a weak leader is appointed, or it is not given sufficient resources or independence to do what is required? We would then be relying on a single, ineffective body to deal with corruption and be even worse off than we are now.
We don’t believe that a lack of political will is a problem unique to the single agency model. If there is a lack of political will to deal with corruption, it is irrelevant whether we have a multi- or single-agency approach – in such circumstances, both will fail. This is why it is vital for us to use every means at our disposal to pressure our leaders to take effective action.
Any single agency trying to stamp out corruption would face significant political challenges. Even if it doesn’t meet an untimely end (like the Scorpions), there would certainly be enormous pressure on its leadership, and it would have to be carefully designed to insulate it from such forces.
However, such difficulties need not be fatal. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Hong Kong was regarded as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It established a well-designed and resourced anti-corruption agency, which very quickly stamped out the problem. Botswana has had similar success with a single agency model. On the other hand several other countries have attempted to follow suit, with far less success.
It may be that there are just too many obstacles to the establishment of a single corruption-busting agency in South Africa, and that we will have to go another path. This need not be a calamity, as there are workable alternatives and some likely advantages.
For example, there are solutions that would draw on existing institutions. If the mandate and capacity of our some of these are broadened, they may be able to increase the effectiveness of our response to corruption.
For example, the Hawks are responsible for investigating priority crimes. If they are given the necessary independence, as the Constitutional Court has recently found that they must have, they can remain responsible for many of the most serious criminal investigations of corruption.
In addition, a body like the SIU currently has the power to investigate certain criminal matters, but it also scrutinises conduct that may be non-criminal, but still amounts to corrupt conduct deserving punishment (such as being blacklisted from doing business with organs of state).
The SIU could also be responsible for administrative reform, or prevention, and advocacy and training.
This has the advantage of making use of existing institutions and expertise, and would therefore be likely to result in less political resistance. However, whichever institutions are used would need to have their mandate broadened and would need to be given the required independence and resources to do the job.
Most vital of all is a sense of accountability in our leadership. Whatever solutions we adopt will not be effective unless backed by serious political commitment. President Zuma made some of the right noises in his state of the nation address. We hope that he and other leaders will also take the necessary action.