Dear Corruption Watch

I see that President Jacob Zuma has recently praised public servants for a job well done. This is at odds with recent press on greedy public servants lining their pockets. Is our president's praise misplaced? — Confused

Dear Confused

We are aware of the president's congratulatory letter to the public servants, which is a nice exercise in morale building but perhaps, as you say, praise misplaced.

Corruption Watch is all too able to compare his sentiments to the reality of the reports we receive from victims of corruption as well as the public data available.

While we commend those public servants — and there are many — who strive to build our nation, we appeal to the president to take note of those costing the country billions of rands.

Since 1994, it has been calculated, R385-billion has been lost to corruption in every sector of the government and the Public Service Commission has expressed its fear that financial misconduct in the public sector could rise to R1-billion in the 2011-12 financial year.

When presenting to a portfolio committee in parliament, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said it was probing 588 procurement contracts in the public sector to the value of R9.1-billion and had found that 43 procurement processes, amounting to R1.4-billion, were irregular.

The unit is also investigating issues relating to conflict of interest valued at R3.4-billion.

The reports we receive and the investigations done by the SIU, alas, do not support the president's claim that there have been "meaningful achievements" in the health, basic education and police departments.

Corruption in the health department has been rampant and, zooming in on the Eastern Cape Department of Health, the amount of money squandered by public servants is frankly appalling.

A recent investigation by the SIU, the South African Revenue Service and the asset forfeiture unit found that 544 department workers were suspected of being ghost workers, 8 034 workers were directors of active companies and a further 929 workers were listed as direct suppliers to the department.

Anyone paying attention to the news knows basic education is not exempt from corruption scandals. People reporting to us suggest that about 40% of graft in schools involves principals embezzling funds and a further 16.2% relates to corruption in the procurement processes.

President Zuma also noted that the police were deserving of tribute, commenting that the turnaround time for service delivery has improved, as well as the average time taken by police to respond to calls for help.

But we have seen no corresponding drop in reports of corruption in the metro police and SAPS. The public who report to us about the police highlight issues such as nepotism, bribery, intimidation and the use of official SAPS property for private purposes.

A week before Chris Hani died, 20 years ago this month, he said he envisioned a nation where nurses were guided by ethics of care, teachers by ethics of learning and police by ethics of community safety.

Corruption Watch takes comfort from the fact that many of its whistleblowers are employed in the public service.

These are people who are equally appalled by the levels of corruption that they witness in their own workplaces and who are ashamed and embarrassed of the conduct of their colleagues, often in positions of seniority. The president should reserve his praise for those public servants who are willing to expose corruption.

I see that President Jacob Zuma has recently praised public servants for a job well done. This is at odds with recent press on greedy public servants lining their pockets. Is our president’s praise misplaced? asks a Corruption Watch follower.
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