The need for citizens to actively fight corruption was strongly highlighted by speakers at a seminar[i] on Combatting Corruption held at STIAS.
“Fighting corruption requires a combined effort and should be a shared objective. We need active citizenship. Don’t wait for the next election. Corrupt leaders take advantage of our silence and ignorance. You can’t expect anyone to act for you,” said Dr Tinashe Chigwata of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape.
This sentiment was echoed by Advocate Paul Hoffman of Accountability Now who said: “Your democratic response doesn’t end on Election Day – it is 365 days a year.”
“The educated elite of Africa need to take responsibility for the privileges we enjoy,” he added.
Chigwata and Hoffman were invited speakers at the STIAS year-end function for PhD Scholarship holders and addressed an audience of students from all over Africa as well as STIAS fellows.
Turning to his home country, Zimbabwe, Chigwata pointed to the perils of entrenched corruption.
“Like in many other African countries, in Zimbabwe corruption is entrenched to the extent that it has reached pandemic proportions,” he said.
However, he pointed out: “No country can claim to have eradicated corruption.”
He outlined the commonly cited reasons for anti-corruption institutions failing which include lack of resources to carry out their mandates, lack of independence, lack of a co-ordinated approach and lack of adequate punitive measures due to weaknesses in the legal framework.
“Most anti-corruption agencies, particularly on the African continent, are suffocated in terms of resources,” he said.
Advocate Hoffman emphasised both the local and international initiatives in place to fight corruption starting with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #16 which emphasises the need for access to justice for all and the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
“If your country hasn’t bought into the SDGs you must petition,” he said. “They are ground zero.”
“The SDGs are the UN response in trying to deal with rising inequality and corruption globally especially since 2008.”
And it’s the poor who suffer most due to corruption.
“Corruption is theft from the poor,” he continued. “It means SDG 16 can never happen and the needs of ordinary people cannot be delivered.”
“Corruption takes what belongs to all – the common wealth – for the benefit of a few. The poor are most affected. It restricts their access to public services because they can’t afford to pay bribes and makes the cost of public service delivery higher. Corruption undermines social development,” said Chigwata.
“The key issue is that individual interests and political objectives often supersede broader societal objectives,” he added.
“Inequality, poverty and corruption go hand in hand,” added Hoffman.
“Corruption has been on the increase globally since 2008 but first world countries are more able to absorb the effects of corruption,” he said.
Turning to South Africa specifically, Hoffman outlined the power of the South African Constitution, the judiciary and the Chapter 9 Institutions.
“South Africa has a supreme Constitution,” he said. “Until 1994 parliament was the seat of sovereignty now this resides in the Constitution. It is there for ordinary people to hold those in positions of authority to account. ”
“The Chapter 9 institutions exist to bed down the Constitution,” he added.
“Our judiciary also needs to be ‘3 I’ – have integrity, be independent and impartial.”
“The South African Constitutional Court in the Glenister Case has determined that corruption is a human rights issue,” he continued. “This is a gift to constitutional democracies around the world.”
But he emphasised that even the best Constitutions are only as good as the people who implement them.
“If Constitutions are ignored,” he said, “countries put themselves in danger of failure.”
“The first step in state capture in South Africa was the closure of the Scorpions in 2008,” he continued. “They were an adequate anti-corruption agency and were working too well. However, the Scorpions could be closed by a simple majority of parliament – if they had been created as a Chapter 9 institution this would not have been possible.”
He added that an adequate anti-corruption entity needs to be specialised, trained, independent, resourced and secure in tenure.
“The Hawks, who replaced the Scorpions, report to the Police Commissioner, who reports to the Minister of Police so they are not an adequate anti-corruption entity.”
He described the Guptas as “an investment in corruption”.
Hoffman emphasised that without an independent, specialised and fully trained anti-corruption entity, one that has guaranteed resources and security of tenure of office for its personnel, “the state will not succeed in its ongoing battle with the corrupt”.
In discussion the issue of patronage especially in the context of extended families was raised as a particularly African problem as well as global acceptance of corruption as a way of life. “I don’t believe it’s ever justified,” responded Hoffman. “Painting outside the lines does not work.”
“If South Africa becomes a failed state – in other words, cannot pay its debts – the collapse of the South African economy, the most sophisticated in Africa, will have a domino effect,” he continued. “We will see a tsunami of economic and political refugees. If we fail, Africa will fail.”
[i] This seminar was part of the end-of-the-year function for students on STIAS’ full-time PhD scholarship programme held at STIAS on 6 November 2017. The seminar was also attended by the students’ supervisors and a number of STIAS fellows. The main speakers, Dr Tinashe Chigwata and Advocate Paul Hoffman also participated in the Annual Seminar on Constitutionalism in Africa (SASCA) hosted by STIAS from 19 to 22 September 2017, which was dedicated this year to the theme of Corruption and Constitutionalism in Africa. See https://stias.ac.za/news/2017/10/examining-the-impact-of-corruption-in-africa-sasca-seminar-2017/