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Name, shame and jail

The war against corruption now desperately needs a high profile arrest.
Picture: Moneyweb

As VIPs go, you can’t get much higher than a Saudi prince, specifically billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud. With a Forbes net worth rating of $16.5 billion, he is one of the richest men in the world and has large holdings in some of the biggest global companies. I wrote about him some years back (see When Billionaires pout) when the prince threw some of his golden toys out of the cot at not being ranked higher in the Forbes listing of richest people in the world.

Now he has been arrested among dozens of princes and former government ministers as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe in the country; a difficult thing to fathom in a state that has been rife with endemic corruption and is one of the most repressive regimes in the world. In addition, the purge is clearly part of a very tangled web being weaved around power in the royal family and in the broader context of Middle East geopolitics. But it is the kind of action that might just lift the Kingdom from its 62nd ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which, surprisingly perhaps, is two ranks better than South Africa. Top spot as the world’s “cleanest” nations is shared by Denmark and New Zealand.

The global rebellion against corruption has become intense.

“In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity,” says José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International.

Unemployment, poverty, and especially inequality, create a passionate intolerance of brazen corrupt behaviour and of political largesse and nepotism. It has been a key factor in the global assault on the establishment and the rise of populism. One may be tempted to use events in Zimbabwe as an example, but that has been more about political power mongering than a popular uprising against corruption. This in itself shows how corruption fuels political instability and factional conflict.

We are seeing much of that in South Africa too, but South Africans themselves cannot be accused of indifference towards corruption. These past few months in particular have seen an unprecedented public outcry against the behaviour of some of the political and business elite, including household names in institutional finance. Opposition parties have been active in parliament, the streets and courts; parliamentary committee meetings have become courtrooms with members of all parties practising their prosecuting skills; investigative journalists are writing best sellers with new revelations each day, and civic organisations have adopted law enforcement roles in various ways. We salute them all. We should support them all. These are the good men and women who do not allow evil to flourish by standing by and doing nothing.

But what is needed now is for one or a few of our own untouchable princes, including some of those in private sector institutions, to be handcuffed in his or her office, marched to jail and subjected to robust prosecution. We have named them. We have shamed them. They should now go to prison.

One can name, but one cannot shame the shameless

There is enough evidence to institute a high level prosecution. Perversely, the public parading of all of this evidence is aggravating perceptions both here and abroad, of the depth of corruption. We have shown the world our dirty linen. We have not shown that we are prepared to wash it. It’s a moot point whether there aren’t countries that are more corrupt than South Africa, but rank better simply because of media and public repression.

Perceptions drive trust and the biggest price we are paying for both the levels of corruption and the uproar around it, is a widening of the trust deficit. That has become an important factor in holding back economic growth. Imprison one or a few high profile miscreants and trust will gain a substantial boost. Legal retribution is now no longer only about fair play and justice; but also about economic growth, credit ratings, jobs and prosperity.

Judicial commissions, parliamentary committees and enquiries, may add to the heat, but will do little to burn the criminals. Like the enquiry into tax morality, which is a ludicrous oxymoron. How can you expect tax morality when you have immoral tax spending?

There are many who are hoping that the much-talked-about ANC elective conference next month will be some kind of watershed in the fight against corruption. At least all candidates have included it in their personal manifestos. It’s little more than typical political incoherence and hypocrisy. It is doubtful whether this fish has rotted only from the head, and that a different head will stop the rot.

What was once viewed as the ruling party’s greatest strength, has become its greatest weakness – its strong decentralised power structure and the power vested in its branches. From the early 90s, elections in these branches had become little more than job-hunting by unemployed cadres. Political position was made convertible into employment in all forms of government, SOEs and supply chain patronage. It was even a good credential to have in seeking employment in the private sector. The extent to which this qualification influenced appointments in executive and administrative positions has undoubtedly aggravated poor service delivery, but its effects on the branches themselves are now obvious in sometimes violent contestation for branch posts and the degree to which branches, regions and even provinces are often in disarray.

Corruption has become systemic, not only in party structures, but in the broad government and related bureaucracies. That is not counterintuitive to the need for prosecution at the top. It may not make a clean sweep throughout political, government and private sector institutions, but will certainly dramatically change foreign and domestic perceptions about corruption in South Africa.

Wouldn’t that be a nice Christmas gift for the nation? 

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Well if Shaun the sheep would wipe the sleep out of his eyes he would arrest and charge Jacob without any (further) hesitation.

As always, a very well-considered and constructed article.

Why does the electorate tolerate corrupt leaders? What is the motivation for voters to continually elect, and support corrupt leaders? Maybe the answer to this question is that the voters were not aware of the lack of integrity and morality of the people they elected?

No, the voters did not care about ethics, they only focused on the promises that were made to them. Whether this leader is an upright citizen is irrelevant to them. They vote for the party that promises to take from some citizens what belongs to them and to give it to them, to whom it does not belong.

So in essence the voter who supports a party with socialist agenda, uses the legislator to steal from other citizens. The voters are the ones who gave this political party the licence to loot because they expect to share in the loot.

Now what type of person rises to the top in any criminal organization? The most cunning person with the lowest ethics and with a total disregard for the rights of others, becomes the leader in a society like this. And this is exactly what we have got in South Africa now. It all started with a voter who did not respect the property rights of another voter, because he himself does not own any property.

The circumstances make the leader, not the other way around. The voters created the circumstances and the environment for the scum of society to rise to the top. The solution is for every person in rural communities to receive the title deed to the piece of land he lives on. People who have got something to lose, elect leaders who will protect property, and not steal it.

There are two motivators here: greed and fear. I think it may have been fear (through intimidation) in places previously, but now probably greed is a lot more powerful. People see that there is no consequence management or accountability, so rush to join the queue to snout at the trough.

Pretty much sums it up. It is however, not a uniquely South African phenomenon. If one looks at any mature democracy (e.g. UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand) democracy iterates towards a two party system where the left vote for the party that will take by force, or threat of force, from the more affluent and the right vote for the party that lets them retain more of the product of their labour. Simple.

In such a scenario the battle is always about the median voter. The affluent doctor who has paid his house off and will retire in five years will not vote left. The unemployed mother of five on food stamps will never vote right. Both have too much to lose and vote according to their own interests. The median voter is as much a tax receiver as he is a payer so is therefore in a quandary and is thus susceptible to persuasion by either party (swing vote).

Owing to the highly positively skewed distribution of income in SA, the median voter is a rather indigent fellow hence gathering the votes of the great unwashed hordes of grant recipients is a cinch for the ANC. The dilemma of the right in SA is to persuade someone dirt poor that they will be better off without wealth redistribution which is probably not true- at least in the short term. In fact, given the status of the median voter, the parties on the right would make more inroads arguing for redistribution.

Taking, by force or threat of force, from those who have more and giving to those who have less is a feature of democratic regimes. The allure of the government handouts (really confiscated wealth) is irresistible. In fact the morality of this is lost in what is received as a “right”. Social security with dignity is my constitutional “right”. The “right” to consume the produce of another.

The above is why countries that have economic freedom but little personal freedom (China) tend to prosper but countries with little economic freedom and lots of personal freedom (South Africa), don’t. Economic freedom would include minimal restrictions opening and running a business and getting to keep the product of your labour (low tax).

I cannot see it as anything but a shortcoming of democracy where those who don’t produce wealth use the state apparatus to loot those who do.

Now that’s simple to understand.

Excellent and most informative! To distill a complex subject down to it’s essence and to present it in such a way that even I can understand it, demonstrates great skill!

To quote a current President that will only be recognized in latter years. “DRAIN THE SWAMP!!”

End of comments.

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