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Cancer of corruption thrives when integrity is replaced by greed or short-term gain

By Dr Solomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” said Edmund Burke, an 18th century British statesman.

These famous words ring true today as we redouble our efforts to root out the cancer of corruption that has plagued our society.

We have witnessed first-hand how corruption thrives when integrity is replaced with greed or short term gain. We have also heard how acts of corruption are often rationalised as the norm when people say “but everybody does it”.

The success of our fight against corruption depends on the involvement of all citizens and all parts of society. We need everyone to treat corrupt acts with the disdain it deserves and make it their personal responsibility to blow the whistle on corruption.

Corruption in any form or on any scale leads to devastating consequences for our nation. It spans from paying a traffic officer for a “cool drink” to turning a blind eye to an indiscretion to attempting to influence large business deals through a bribe.

These acts multiplied across hundreds or thousands of individuals eventually give rise to a culture of impunity and lawlessness. We cannot allow corruption in any form to be left unchecked as it steals the future of our children and generations to come.

Corruption perpetuates an endless cycle that deprives citizens of quality service delivery and undermines confidence in the institutions that are supposed to serve them. It robs us of resources that should have led to the development of our country and improved livelihoods.

Government has intensified its fight against corruption and is doing everything it can in holding those responsible to account for their actions as, well as recover stolen monies. Our law enforcement agencies are hard at work investigating corruption, malpractice and maladministration in various institutions in the public sector.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) has over the last four years arrested more than 12 000 people and secured 4 500 convictions for corruption. The Special Tribunal was set up to expedite the adjudication of matters emanating from the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigations.

Since its establishment, the tribunal has handed down judgment in favour of the SIU to recover over R8.6 billion of stolen monies.

The Investigating Directorate within the National Prosecuting Authority has enrolled 26 cases, declared 89 investigations and 165 accused persons have appeared in court for alleged state capture-related offences.

Our law enforcement agencies have also granted freezing or preservation orders to the value of R12.9bn.

The SIU continues to strike against corruption in the affairs of government departments, municipalities, and state-owned Entities. Between April 2021 and March 2022, the SIU had recovered R436 million; prevented financial losses to the value of R6.2bn and set aside contracts and administrative decisions worth R5.5bn through the Special Tribunal and High Court.

Pension benefits belonging to 13 former officials have been preserved pending the finalisation of civil action instituted against them for their alleged role in the loss of public funds.

A primary focus for the Fusion Centre in 2020/21 was fraud, corruption, maladministration, money laundering and priority crimes related to the government’s Covid-19 pandemic relief efforts.

During the 2020/21 financial year, the work of the Fusion Centre, augmented by financial intelligence from the Financial Intelligence Centre, resulted in 276 criminal investigations relating to fraud and corruption.

This has led to the recovery of proceeds of crime to the value of approximately R659m, which has been returned to the fiscus. The work of the Financial Intelligence Centre continues to play a central role in identifying the proceeds of crime, combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

It gathers, analyses and disseminates information to protect the integrity of South Africa’s financial system.

Our efforts in the public service to root out corruption has been strengthened through the work of the Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit (PAEIDTAU).

The unit co-operates with law enforcement and other relevant agencies to identify public service employees involved in corruption and to refer them for investigations by the police, and where warranted, to be prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority.

It achieves this by overseeing the system of financial disclosure for public servants, monitoring employees conducting business with the state, assisting in implementing lifestyle audits and tracking cases of discipline management in the public service.

One indicator of possible corruption is when individuals live well beyond their means and this can be determined through a lifestyle audit. Since 1 April 2021 lifestyle audits have become compulsory in the public service as a way to detect possible corruption.

PAEIDTAU has helped departments implement lifestyle audits by training around 400 ethics officers on how to conduct lifestyle reviews. Thus far, 27 national departments and 47 provincial departments have finalised their lifestyle audits.

We further strengthened our fight against corruption by closely tracking conflict of interest that may arise through the e-Disclosure system. Administered by PAEIDTAU, public servants annually disclose their financial interests on the system which red flags areas of conflict.

In the current financial year, 98% of senior managers in the public service disclosed their financial interests timeously and these submissions were verified for accuracy against, among others, the following data basis: eNatis, Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and Deeds Office.

In ensuring that public servants are held to account, PAEIDTAU has developed the Guide on Managing Discipline in the Public Service to streamline disciplinary cases, precautionary suspensions and appeals. In 2021, 210 public servants were trained as chairpersons and initiators for disciplinary cases.

Where there are cases of long outstanding precautionary suspensions, the unit trained labour relations officials on the Guide for Disciplinary Cases in the Public Service and as a result at the end of March 2021, provinces had finalised 78% of their precautionary case backlogs compared to 18% in the two preceding quarters.

Furthermore, the cost for precautionary suspensions at national departments stabilised at around R25m per quarter, it reduced to 20 million in quarter four of the 2020/2021 financial year. The suspension cost for provinces decreased from R87m to R62m in the same period.

To ensure continued improvement in discipline management, the PAEIDTAU is drafting a Discipline Management Strategy for the Public Service that will focus on backlogs, suspensions and appeals.

As part of government’s efforts to stamp out corruption, public servants are prohibited from conducting any form of business with the state. This was made a criminal offence in terms of the Public Administration Management Act, 2014.

PAEIDTAU flags individuals employed in the state who are actively conducting business with the state, whereafter their departments are alerted to investigate, discipline and where necessary, to open criminal cases.

There has been a dramatic decline in employees conducting business with the state from 1 500 employees in June 2020 to fewer than 100 at the end of July 2022.

While our initiatives to root out corruption are gaining pace, lasting results will only be achieved when we take Edmund Burke’s words to heart and all do something. We encourage everyone to report any wrongdoing that you may be aware of to the National Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 701 701.

Let us also speak out against corruption and unethical conduct. It is up to each one of us to act with integrity, be responsible and honest citizens. In working together to fight corruption we can ensure that those who are corrupt have no place to hide.

* Dr Solomon Hoogenraad-Vermaak is the Head: Public Administration Ethics, Integrity and Disciplinary Technical Assistance Unit at the Department of Public Service and Administration.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.