As we mourn the passing of President Nelson Mandela, we recall the intense passion with which he hated and fought corruption in all its manifestations.
“It is therefore of the utmost importance that we act strongly against corruption. The public demands that we see to it that the strictest standards of honesty and integrity are maintained. It not, then as Alexander Pope prophesied in his moral essays:
‘At length corruption like a general flood (so long by watchful ministers withstood) shall deluge all; and avarice creeping on, spread like a low-born mist, and blot out the sun.”
These were the words delivered on his behalf by the late Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar, to a South African Development Commnunity regional workshop on international crime in November 1994. The UN General Assembly declared 9 December as International Anti-Corruption Day to raise awareness of corruption and the need to combat and prevent it after adopting the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003.
South Africa is a party to this Convention that came into force in December 2005, having ratified it on 22 November 2004.
Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and, in some instances, leads to instability. Corruption is an assault on the very foundations of democracy and the rule of law.
The impact of corruption on local government is particularly worrying because the vision of developmental local government is central to many of the objectives of our National Development Plan.
Many municipalities suffer a loss of confidence because the expectations placed upon them exceed their administrative and financial ability. This has contributed to the wrong and very destructive perception that local government is an unmitigated and irredeemably corrupt disaster area.
Recently, the Ministers of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), National Treasury and Public Service and Administration all announced strong measures to build a capable developmental state and fight corruption in line with recommendations of the National Development Plan.
Early next year the Minister of CoGTA will gazette regulations to set enforceable competence standards for municipal manager and the senior officials accountable to them. These measures are a direct response to challenges arising from cases - in some municipalities - where persons are employed without the relevant skills, expertise and qualifications.
They reflect government’s resolve to professionalize local public administration. Having the right skills is critical to municipal effectiveness.
The use of a competency-based approach in recruiting senior managers in particular, will result in reduced turnover and increased performance of both senior managers and their teams. This will contribute to fighting corruption by creating an environment in which better financial management and controls can be applied.
The regulations also fight corruption by banning officials who have been dismissed for certain categories of serious misconduct from being employed in any municipality for a period of 2 to 12 years. In terms of these regulations a senior official found guilty of guilty fraud or corruption will be shown a red card and sent off the local government field for 10 years.
The department is developing an online database or case-management system that will require municipalities to load cases of misconduct. The regulations will make it mandatory for all municipalities to get clearance for all appointments using this database before any appointments are finalised.
Whilst these and other regulations are necessary, national government needs also needs a more enabling framework that focuses on developing the systems to strengthen local government. In line with this approach the Minister of Finance published draft municipal regulations on standard chart of accounts in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act in September.
Currently, each municipality manages and reports on its financial affairs in accordance with its own organizational structure and chart of accounts. The result is a disjuncture amongst municipalities and municipal entities and between municipalities and the other spheres of government as to how they classify revenue and expenditure and report thereon.
This compromises transparency, reliability and accuracy through the planing and reporting processes. The regulations will bring greater uniformity and result in an improved understanding of the role of local government in the broader national policy framework and linkage to other government functions.
The Minister of Public Service and Administration has also announced measures at national and provincial level that will prohibit officials from doing business with government and establish a national school of government. The past week saw the release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2013. The Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be.
Whilst corruption affects all countries, it has a disproportionate impact on developing countries. It is interesting then to locate South Africa in the context of its peers, the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa and Brazil were tied at 72 out of 177 countries surveyed with scores of 42 out of 100. China was ranked at 80 with a score of 40, India at 94 with a score of 36 and Russia at 127 with a score of 28.
Despite the progress we have made the road is still long. What former President Mandela said at the launch of the National Crime Prevention Strategy in 1999 applies to our ongoing fight against corruption:
“We are long past blaming all our difficulties on our past. But it is at our peril that we ignore the roots of South Africa`s high levels of crime in the apartheid era. It left us with a justice system pervaded with lawlessness and criminality. It corroded the moral fabric of our society. It`s legacy of poverty will take years to eradicate. For all these reasons our fight against the unacceptable levels of crime must be a many-sided one and have the active participation of every sector of society.”
Andries Nel is the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.