Calls for civil society to combat the scourge of SA corruption

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JEREMY MAGGS: Transparency International has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report. The CPI is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, providing an annual comparative snapshot of around 180 countries and territories, and South Africa has not covered itself with glory.

Read: SA hits new low for corruption – Transparency International

First up on the programme is Wayne Duvenage from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). Wayne, what do you believe are the primary factors contributing to the decline in the index?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Thanks, Jeremy. It is a perception index, but perception, as we all know, is reality, and these are quite accurate.

The sad thing is that, and I think this is what it’s all about, we’ve come out of state capture, we’ve come out of the Zondo Commission, and we see no change. In fact, we see things getting worse, especially at local government level.

So the public’s perception of South Africa is that we are going backwards, which is sad. The new administration came into power, and Cyril Ramaphosa, on the ticket of an anti-corruption stance, and yet nothing changes. It just seems to get worse. So the perception is that we are going backwards, and our perception as well in our experience of what’s going on at Outa is that we are going backwards when it comes to dealing with corruption.

JEREMY MAGGS: Wayne, post Zondo there was so much optimism. Why do you think there has been no change? Why are we still spinning wheels here?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Well, it’s a big picture, but I think it all stems from a lack of political will. If we don’t challenge this from the top, it’s not going to happen. It’s not a difficult thing if it’s led properly from the president down. We’ve got the right structures, we’ve got the mechanisms, but that’s all a lot of lip service. We need to resource them.


Why it’s taken so long to prosecute state capture cases in SA

State capture scorecard: R500bn looted, zero assets recovered

So the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority), we’ve always said, if you give them R10 billion extra, they’ll give the country another R100 billion because we’ve got to start apprehending those who are involved. We need to work with civil society, as government, so that we can point them in the (right) direction.

The amount of corruption that we are now uncovering in the various Setas (Sector Education and Training Authority) around the country, it’s mind-blowing, and this is ongoing.

So you have a national area issue, you have provincial and at local government. The country, the government, is just not dealing with these matters. The transparency related to procurement, Eskom, Transnet, it’s really an issue of a lack of political will and as a result of that, a lack of the necessary resources to tackle the issue.

JEREMY MAGGS: Do you think corruption is manifesting itself in a different way and are there new targets?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Ja, it is. It’s manifesting itself everywhere. Just speaking on a show last night (about) the recent arrest of people who are selling driver’s licences, you can speak to anybody, nobody’s going to get their driver’s licence unless they’re paying an extra R2 000 to the powers that be at those testing stations. That’s how it is. That’s becoming our reality. It’s almost as if the youth and people who are in this space think, well, this is how business is done, isn’t this the normal world? But it isn’t.

Listen: Prosecution-led investigations key to SA’s corruption fight



So when it becomes that endemic, ingrained into our society then we’re on a hiding to nothing. We’ve got to root this behaviour out. But again, unless our criminal justice system is empowered and we have proper leadership and the police services, we’re going to struggle with this problem.

JEREMY MAGGS: And to our great shame, we now sit in the category of what is termed flawed democracies and inevitably, this image on the global stage is going to, if not already, having a major impact in terms of international relations and foreign investment.

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Ja, it will, absolutely. When people see things going backwards, given all that we’ve come through, given our history, given the start that we had to our new democracy, we really just are sending the wrong signals and people will be hesitant to invest here and to help us develop this country and take it where it should be if we are going to send signals out like this. So that’s our reality and it needs to change.

I just sincerely hope that everybody participates in democracy when it comes up to these next elections. They have power that they must never underestimate.

JEREMY MAGGS: If you mine down a little more deeply, the Africa organised crime index points to high levels of corruption, specifically in the public sector, police, education, health being the most affected. Is there any way in which South Africa can address corruption in these critical sectors or do you think it has become so entrenched, so endemic that we just need to factor it into everyday operations?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: No, I never believe that it’s too late. We can deal with it. It has to be dealt with. It’s now going to need to be a combination and a collaborative approach from business, from civil society and government. There are a lot of good people in government who don’t want this to happen, and we need to root it out. Jeremy, it’s a 1% issue here. It’s a handful of people who are hijacking the system and allowing the criminal justice mechanisms to be bypassed.


SA’s handle on public sector corruption no better than it was 10 years ago [Jan 2022]

Corruption ‘endemic’ across all three spheres of government: PSC [Dec 2022]

We can stop this, and we have to stop it. We must never sit back and allow ourselves to say, well, this is now our new reality and our new norm and let’s just live with it. That would be a sad day for this country.

JEREMY MAGGS: It would indeed. But those good people who you refer to, Wayne, are often bullied, they are exhausted and they’re despondent.

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Ja, they are. Just this morning (I was) meeting with a whistleblower who went through the same process as many go through. They’re ostracised, they’re fired on trumped-up charges, they’re pushed out, their lives are ruined as a result. We’ve just got to keep working harder, making sure whistleblowers stay safe, gather as much information as you can, and we’ve just got to keep working.

But again, if this government is not going to do more to protect whistleblowers, they’re not putting their money where their mouths are, they put out the lip service that they are doing what they can, but they’re not, they’re actually doing nothing, quite frankly.

So it is up to civil society and we appeal to big business to get on board with these fights, get on board with these challenges, stop fearing government and take a stand because business is on the other side of the corruption coin and there are a lot of good businesses out there, but they need to support the anti-corruption initiatives that have been taken by civil society because it’s now up to the people to fight this fight if government isn’t going to fight it.

JEREMY MAGGS: Wayne Duvenage, thank you very much.

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