After months of preparation, Corruption Watch has finally come alive. It is a civil society organisation that will crowdsource and uncover incidents of corruption, mainly in the public sector. A speech by justice and constitutional development minister Jeff Radebe suggests that government is very happy about this new project, but both Cosatu and the minister failed to appreciate that policies like the disbanding of the Scorpions made the corruption atmosphere freer. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The idea to launch a civil society corruption watchdog was Cosatu’s, but Corruption Watch is a baby of many different people. It was launched on Thursday on Constitutional Hill in Braamfontein, with the public protector Thuli Madonsela, the justice and constitutional development minister Jeff Radebe and Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi topping the bill of speakers.
According to David Lewis, the executive director of Corruption Watch and former Competition Commission boss, the trade union federation had put together a small team within the organisation to deal with a stream of complaints about corruption coming from members, but then decided that an institutional response was needed.
Lewis said that the reported individual cases of corruption would be the most important for Corruption Watch. People will be able to report cases on the website and also via SMS. An in-house team of investigators, accountants and lawyers will also conduct probes. Information will be gathered from public domain sources, the presidential hotline and other sources to provide a holistic picture of corruption in the country. Corruption Watch is hoping that the data will highlight corruption hotspots.
Providing an eagle’s-eye view of corruption through data mining tools is one of those things that nobody has really bothered to do, but will prove indispensible to sorting out corruption forever. Lewis hopes that it will incentivise investigators and the media to focus even more deeply on trouble areas.
Even though the focus will be mostly on the public sector, this by no means precludes probes into private sector graft.
Lewis stressed that this would be an activist institution, and not one primarily focused on research.
Corruption Watch has published a list of its funders and supporters, which includes Aveng Limited, Ernst & Young and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.
Radebe was especially fiery in his description of the dangers of corruption.
“Corruption seeks to extinguish the flame that shines on all South Africans, the flame that promises freedom and security for all, the flame of democracy,” he said. “Corruption is a criminal act that steals the fruit of our struggle, and we must declare it our enemy as apartheid was. If we acknowledge that corruption is a way of life in South Africa, we have lost the battle.”
Both Vavi and Radebe gave the media a surprising pat on the back for exposing public sector corruption.
Not a single day goes by without a newspaper reporting on corrupt officials. All stories have this one thing in common; corruption is daylight theft from the poor. Unless we can mobilise and empower people we will not succeed against this growing enemy,” the trade union federation leader said.
Vavi is a board member of Corruption Watch, along with former home affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang, Adila Hassim of the Aids Law Project and Mary Metcalfe, to name a few.
Lest anyone think that this is a fly-by night operation with no political or civic importance, anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada (one of the Rivonia treason trial defendants), Moeletsi Mbeki – jokingly mentioned by Vavi as a union representative – and former national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli were among the guests at the launch.
“Our political life is also getting polluted. Some corrupt politicians and officials build political support by bribing people to back their factions, which are no longer based on ideological differences but on who has the biggest treasure chest to dole out favours,” Vavi said.??“Leadership contestation is changing from being about the battle of ideas into battles for control of the public purse strings. This will destroy the democratic traditions of our movement and lead to paralysis and disunity. ??Worst of all is the growing evidence that corruption is becoming literally a matter of life and death, as people are being intimidated or even killed for exposing and preventing corruption,” said Vavi.
When asked about the Protection of State Information Bill, Radebe chose not to answer the question, saying that it was for the state security minister to comment on the matter. The government’s signals on the issue of a public interest defence has been unequivocal – it isn’t necessary, even in the face of huge prison sentences for leaking classified information.
There’s also the fact that Cosatu and the ANC joined forces to have the Scorpions disbanded.
Cosatu’s submission to Parliament to have the Scorpions disbanded said, “We fully support the government’s decision to dissolve the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), better known as the Scorpions and note that these bills are in line with resolutions passed by both the Cosatu 9th Congress and the ANC’s Polokwane Conference. The government is to be congratulated for responding promptly to the voice of the majority of the people as expressed in those resolutions.”
At the time, Vavi accused the Scorpions of no longer fighting corruption, but playing political games against certain individuals.
This is a bit like the doublespeak that the ANC and the government have on the media: the Constitution guarantees media freedom, and we’ll make the right noises to that effect, but we’ll still put the media’s balls in a vice, which we’ll slowly tighten over the years.
Cosatu has been in bed with the ANC since 1994, so it has to take some responsibility for the malaise that corruption in government has created. The federation has taken a big step back from the bad ol’ days of campaigning outright for Zuma and they’re far more focused on what the immediate concerns of its members are – which, in the area of corruption, puts them in a position of adversity with the ruling party. Cosatu has to look at the government it helped put into power in the first place and say, “You are so corrupt, and so unable to do anything about it, that we’re establishing an independent corruption watchdog to do the job”. It must make for very awkward Tripartite Alliance meetings. DM
Photo: David Lewis (Sipho Hlongwane/iMaverick)
"The surest defence against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even—if you will—eccentricity." ~ Joseph Brodsky