SA hits new low for corruption – Transparency International

South Africa, once revered as model of democracy around the world, has hit a new low for corruption, placing it alongside other “flawed democracies” such as Burkina Faso, Kosovo and Vietnam.

That’s according to Transparency International’s (TI) latest Corruption Perceptions Index, published this week.

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Read: SA’s corruption levels regarded as ‘average’ – index [Jan 2023]

To put this in perspective, SA has fallen from 54th in 2010 – during Jacob Zuma’s presidency – to 83rd in 2023 out of 180 countries.

That may be generous to Zuma and not quite fair to current President Cyril Ramaphosa, as these scores are compiled from 13 different data sources from a dozen institutions that capture data on corruption perceptions.

But the trend appears as inexorable as it is frightening, and it marks a steady deterioration in the willingness to hold the corrupt and their enablers to account.

The latter also marks a new low for SA in the index, says TI.

The top scorers in Africa are Seychelles, Cape Verde and Botswana, with scores between 59 and 71. At rock bottom in Africa we find Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan and Somalia, with scores between 11 and 17.

Frustrating

This chimes with a recent Afrobarometer survey of 39 African countries showing most Africans believe corruption in their countries increased over the previous year, with a majority seeing little improvement in their government’s poor performance in addressing the problem.

“Among key public institutions, the police are most commonly seen as corrupt. Assessments vary widely by country, with Gabon, South Africa, Nigeria, Liberia, and Uganda registering some of the highest perceptions of official corruption,” says Afrobarometer.

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“It is frustrating that, in a country like South Africa, where the corrupt have been exposed for all to see in such public processes as the Zondo Commission and robust media investigations, so few of the implicated parties have been brought to justice,” says Karam Singh, executive director at Corruption Watch, responding to the TI survey.

“There is an urgency to our problem of corruption, as citizens witness the unravelling of cities and infrastructure because of years of impunity and state capture,” Singh adds.

“With elections looming in a few months, the need for accountable leaders of integrity could not be more critical.”

Citizens report having to pay bribes to access public services, and most say people risk retaliation if they report incidents of corruption to the authorities, according to Corruption Watch.

For all the billions of rands and tomes of evidence collected at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, SA has a paltry dividend to show. Law enforcement appears unequal to the task, allowing criminal syndicates to embed themselves in state-owned companies.

Read: Business takes aim at SA’s corruption mess

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Top of the TI corruption perceptions index list are Denmark with a score of 90, Finland (87), New Zealand (85), Norway (84), Singapore (83), Sweden and Switzerland (both with 82).

At the bottom are Somalia (11), Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan and Yemen, all with scores of 13.

Failure and injustice 

Justice and the effective rule of law are essential for preventing and stopping corruption at both the national and international levels, says TI.

“Both are cornerstones of democracy and embody notions of fairness and accountability.

“Impunity for corruption – where people who abuse their power do not face consequences for the harm they cause – is the essence of injustice and failure of the rule of law.”

Despite progress in criminalising corruption and establishing specialised anti-corruption institutions around the world, only 28 out of 180 countries measured improved their corruption perceptions index, while 34 worsened.

“Corruption will continue to thrive until justice systems can punish wrongdoing and keep governments in check. When justice is bought or politically interfered with, it is the people that suffer,” says TI chair François Valérian.

“Leaders should fully invest in and guarantee the independence of institutions that uphold the law and tackle corruption. It is time to end impunity for corruption.”

What to do about it

TI recommends several measures to promote justice and strengthen the rule of law:

  • Shield the justice system from interference and promote merit-based rather than political appointments;
  • Introduce integrity and monitoring mechanisms such as dedicated whistleblowing and reporting channels, and require judges, prosecutors and other relevant actors to disclose their assets and interests;
  • Improve access to justice by simplifying complex procedures, widen the definition of corruption to include non-state victims and allow civil society organisations to initiate cases of corruption;
  • Make justice more transparent by making judgments, out-of-court settlements and enforcements open to the public;
  • Promote cooperation within the justice system; and
  • Expand avenues for accountability in grand corruption cases, allowing countries with stronger rule of law to counter impunity in weaker countries where the justice system is unwilling or unable to enforce against offenders – this would include measures such as granting standing to civil society organisations to pursue cases on behalf of victims.

Read: Can SA turn the tide against corruption?

William Murphy

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