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

Promises to uproot corruption at its source ‘have not manifested in any real consequences for the perpetrators’ – Corruption Watch.
The weakening of law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies during the state capture years ‘has had an extremely negative impact on the psyche’ of the country. Image: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) figures released on Tuesday show that South Africa is struggling to combat corruption in the public sector. In fact, its anti-corruption efforts seem to have stagnated.

According to Corruption Watch, a review of the country’s fight against corruption since 2012 demonstrates a “woeful stagnation”.

In 2012 South Africa received a CPI score of 43, ranking 69th out of 176 countries assessed that year.

Not much has changed since then, as for 2021 the country maintained its 2020 score of 44, but further dropped its rank to 70th out of 180 countries assessed.

The 2021 CPI ranked 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

“It is extremely disheartening to find ourselves, year after year, in the same position on the CPI, with marginal shifts up or down,” executive director of Corruption Watch Karam Singh says in a statement.

“The poor perceptions of how South Africa is faring in its efforts to truly tackle and dismantle the systems that enable corruption are perhaps to be expected when one considers the staggering levels of corruption we have witnessed,” Singh adds.

A concerning global trend

Although disheartening, South Africa is not the only country facing this reality. The latest CPI findings show that 86% of participating countries “have made little to no progress” in the last decade.

In fact, demonstrating this worrying global stagnation is the global CPI average of 43, which has remained unchanged since 2012.

Further, 60% (108) of the countries assessed scored below 50, with 44 located in the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region.

Data from the index also showed that 23 participating countries registered significant declines. Australia (73), Canada (74) and the US (67) were the notable advanced economy countries that saw declines, seeing them drop out of the top 25 countries on the index.

Tackling corruption

Eskom’s coal supply deals, questionable procurement models at Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), and the appointment of Tom Moyane as South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner are among the big corruption stories of the last decade that form part of the tangled web of state capture.

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In the past few years we have seen these stories being aired out at the Zondo Commission of inquiry into allegations of into state capture, but we are yet to see major players being held legally accountable for their contributions to the social and political decay that took place over the last decade.

This lack of real action, according to Corruption Watch, is the biggest problem the country faces in tackling corruption.

“Statements and commitments from leaders to uproot corruption at its source have not manifested in any real consequences for the perpetrators of the widespread corruption that South Africa has experienced,” Corruption Watch says.

Read: Corruption Watch demands accountability and action following release of initial Zondo Commission Report

To reinvigorate South Africa’s fight against corruption, Corruption Watch says it is important to reform its procurement systems, restore and strengthen institutional checks on power, and establish independent well-resourced public oversight bodies that will detect and help prevent further decay.

“We have seen a systematic weakening of our law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies during the state capture years, which has had an extremely negative impact on the psyche of this country, and has eroded the public’s belief that those found guilty of corruption will be held accountable,” says Singh.

“One thing is clear – we need to be proactive and swift in implementing new strategies for addressing perceived and real impunity enjoyed by public officials and private sector actors involved in corruption, if we are to shift South Africa’s position on the CPI in the future.”

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