Where ignorance fears to tread.
2 December 2015 05:05 (South Africa)

Yet another corruption scandal demonstrates the truth - SA is losing the war against corruption

  • Branko Brkic
  • Africa

Another day, another corruption scandal, this time in the correctional services department. Is SA becoming more corrupt, or does it just seem like it because corruption is being uncovered?

Sadly, the objective fact is that South Africa is becoming a comparatively more corrupt country, even though the absolute level of corruption is more or less static.

The details of the corruption in correctional services are not yet known. What is known is that both ANC and DA members of the committee were genuinely shocked by a report by Special Investigating Unit  chief Willie Hofmeyr in Parliament on Tuesday.

Business Day reports that at the meeting ANC committee chairman Vincent Smith said the findings were “horrific”. Another ANC MP said “they should be punished”. DA MP James Selfe said “they are the most shocking I have heard in 15 years in Parliament”.

Hofmeyr apparently declined to name the officials or the company involved since there had been, reported Business Day, “heavy litigation and there was the risk of harming potential criminal and civil cases, (and) warned that the government could be exposed to civil claims by companies that lost out in the tender process”.

But the implication is that former correctional services minister Ngconde Balfour, the Bosasa group and particularly CEO Gavin Watson, might be in big trouble, Business Day says. Department of correctional services’ annual reports show the accounting officer was then national commissioner Linda Mti, and the chief financial officer was Patrick Gillingham.

The corruption involved the inevitable “tender irregularities” otherwise known as kickbacks, for a R250million-a-year prisoner-feeding contract and a R254million access-control system. Total value of contracts between correctional services and Bosasa: more than R1billion.

This incident is just one of hundreds exposed by the media every day, yet coincidentally, the world’s most reputable anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, has just released its findings on the level of corruption around the world.

In this list South Africa ranks surprisingly high, suggesting it is less corrupt than some European countries such as Italy, and that it ranks higher than countries that compare economically, such as Turkey.

South Africa is also much less corrupt than the vast majority of African countries, easily the most corrupt and the poorest continent in the world.

Only three African countries, Botswana, Mauritius and Cape Verde, score higher than five on the index. In total, of the 47 countries in Africa, 31 scored less than three out of 10, suggesting that corruption is perceived as “rampant”.

South Africa’s current score is 4.7 and any score above three but less than five indicates corruption is a “serious” problem. That much is pretty obvious as far as South Africa is concerned.

Since 2001, SA’s ranking has bobbed up and down not changing particularly much. In 2001, the country’s score was 4.8 – marginally better. A score of 5.1 was actually achieved in 2007, suggesting for the first time that corruption was not a serious problem.

The low point was reached in 2003 when SA achieved its worst score of 4.4.

But this index appears to mirror so many other international comparisons: South Africa’s position remains static while other countries improve. The net result is that SA slides down the list not necessarily in absolute terms, but relative terms.

On the relative scale, the fall has been really dramatic. In 2001, South Africa was the 38th least corrupt country. Now SA is the 55th least corrupt country.

What this tells us is that corruption in South Africa is a concern, but more importantly that generally speaking, all around the world levels of corruption are declining – but not here.

By Tim Cohen

Read more: Transparency International, Business Day

Photo: Former Correctional Services Minister,  Ngconde Balfour. REUTERS

  • Branko Brkic
  • Africa

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