Opinionista Ryland Fisher 3 June 2013

Huffing and puffing won’t blow away corruption

It is not uncommon for senior ANC officials to speak out against corruption. What is common, to all of them, is that they never say what they, as the people who wield influence and power, plan to do about it in practical terms. Equally distressing is that corruption is increasingly viewed as an 'acceptable' crime. Only concerted action will demonstrate that South Africans and the ANC are serious about tackling the scourge.

Every now and then a senior member of the governing African National Congress slates corruption in the party and government. The latest to do so is ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who reportedly told an ANC cadres forum meeting in East London last week that the “commitment we had to fight Apartheid has been replaced with greed”.

According to a report in City Press yesterday, Mantashe said that greed and lust had “bedevilled our politics” and were “messing up our movement”. He said some cadres in the ANC entrusted with managing big government department budgets behaved like a “mouse in a cheese factory” and ate themselves to death.

He is clearly worried that these corrupt individuals will reflect badly on the ANC and impact on its chances in next year’s national general elections. The cadre forums, and volunteer forums in some areas, will be key to the ANC’s plans to contest and win the elections.

This is not the first time that Mantashe has spoken out against corruption. If one looks at his speeches over the past year or so, and even his secretarial reports to the ANC, it is clear that combating greed and corruption is something that the ANC SG feels seriously about.

It is also not the first time that senior ANC officials have spoken out about greed and corruption.

I can’t help thinking that, if Mantashe was serious – indeed, if the ANC was serious about combating corruption – they would have come up with practical steps to outlaw it.

It is not enough to say that corruption is bad. They must also say what they, as the people with influence in our society, plan to do about it.

ANC leaders are correct when they say that there are always two or more parties involved in any corrupt activities: those who are being corrupted (often government officials) and those who corrupt them (often business people). All the focus appear to be on the government officials while the business people who play a key role in corruption escape without much attention being paid to them.

The reason is probably because the perception is that government deals with taxpayers’ money while business people deal with with their own money.

But part of the reason why government officials think they can get away with corruption is because they know that they can ask for bribes without fear of being reported and, if they are reported, they stand a very good chance of being cleared.

I speak to many business people who tell me that the reason they inflate quotes to government is because they have to factor in the bribes they have to pay officials. Failure to pay these bribes, they believe, could mean that they will not get a contract which they would have otherwise got without any problem, if skills, experience and ability to deliver were the only criteria.

Of course, if you ask these businessmen why they do not step forward and expose the officials in government, they shrug their shoulders and say that it will not make a difference. The contracts will just go to somebody else who is prepared to pay the bribe.

This is an untenable situation in which we find ourselves in South Africa. The good work that has been done over the years to promote our democracy as an example to the rest of the world could be undone by perceptions that we are a corrupt society.

The challenge is up to all of us, not only the politicians (even though there is a special responsibility on them), to stand up against corruption wherever we might find it.

We should not allow ourselves to be bribed and we must not allow ourselves to be forced into paying bribes. People who solicit bribes must be reported and must know that they will face consequences. People who pay bribes must know that they also stand a chance of being prosecuted and even imprisoned.

It does not help when people who appear to have been hugely corrupted walk away with a slap on the wrist, as we saw in a high-profile case in Cape Town recently.

South Africa will only do away with corruption once it becomes the sort of crime that people despise. At the moment, it appears to be an “acceptable” crime. At least it is not as bad as rape or murder, I can hear people say.

Only once we learn not to discriminate between crimes – when all crimes are seen as bad – and we start having a different attitude towards all crimes, will we have a hope of winning the battle against crime.

Until then, Mantashe and his colleagues in the ANC can huff and puff against crime and corruption but it will be seen merely as attempts to distance the ANC leadership from what has become a malaise in our society. The ANC has to do more to convince us that it is serious about outlawing corruption. We all know what they say about fish rotting from the head. DM

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