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New life for corruption forum, or is the weight of history against them?


Alison Tilley is a part-time member at the Information Regulator of South Africa. 

What are we then to make of the relaunch of the National Anti-Corruption Forum? Is it the last gasp of a dying horse, or are we actually flogging a dead horse?

The credibility of the current Minister of Public Service and Administration as a stalwart in the fight against corruption is, shall we say, not high. Minister Faith Muthambi replaced Ngoako Ramathlodi who recently claimed that Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe and chairperson Ben Ngubane effectively pressed him to blackmail resources giant Glencore, and when he did not comply was fired within weeks. Minister Muthambi is now the chairperson of the newly launched National Anti Corruption Forum (NACF), a revival initiated by her predecessor. My invitation to the relaunch of the Forum under Ramathlodi was enough to raise a flicker of hope in me that something, anything, might be under way within the state to deal with the tsunami of revelations about corruption at the highest level.

The flicker died pretty quickly. The minister announced a small budget for the Forum – R 300,000 – pocket change for the shebeen in Saxenwold – but went on to point out the budgets of the other branches of government dedicated to fighting corruption. I counted them off on my fingers as she mentioned them, and I have to say the list was comprehensively dismal. The National Prosecuting Authority wrestles with its leadership woes, gutted by years of systemic stripping out of independent leadership, and writhing away from the inevitable charges against the President. The Hawks have been led astray by Lieutenant-general Berning Ntlemeza, who will not be returning to work anytime soon after his being deposed by the courts and after his application to interdict Police Minister Fikile Mbalula failed. SAPS was next on the Minister’s list, with Lieutenant-General Kgomotso Phahlane appointed acting National Commissioner of SAPS in October 2015. That has not gone well.

The minister then mentioned SARS – I can’t bear to recite those woes – and the SIU. It was a sad moment of reflection on the state of play in the major anti corruption agencies in the country. The minister also mentioned the National Intelligence Centre, by which she may have meant the National Intelligence Agency or the Financial Intelligence Centre.

If she meant the latter, the theme was picked up on by Jimmy Manyi, who congratulated the Minister on the NACF initiative, on behalf of the country. I suppose that was a bad sign. It went downhill from there – he then accused the NGO sector of acting with less than integrity, described the Unburdening Panel report by the SACC as a “stunt” and criticised the recent FICA amendments as undermining the role of the council. He wrapped up his intervention by dismissing NGOs for interpreting news in a corrupt fashion.

Mandela, who it is no longer fashionable to quote, used to whip his glasses off when making speeches, and say that there are good men and women everywhere. We were enjoined not to write off institutions, no matter their shady past, because there were people who you could work with wherever you look.

If we take his advice, what can be done with the NACF? There is no plan currently on the table from the minister – although my attention was drawn by a fellow participant to the National Anti Corruption Strategy Discussion Document launched only days earlier, by six ministers no less. This plan was not mentioned at all, although with Jeff Radebe leading the launch, that may have proved prescient.

The Discussion Document involves several useful ideas, one of which is to strengthen whistle blower protection. Unfortunately as your correspondent recently reported, new legislation introduces a criminal sanction for false disclosures of information. This is contrary to the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, and contrary to advice from experts in the field. This will inevitably have a chilling effect on whistle blowing. So I think we can take that as one indicator of how joined up policy is on these issues.

What are we then to make of the relaunch of the NACF? Is it the last gasp of a dying horse, or are we actually flogging a dead horse? I am afraid the latter, and this initiative is doomed to fail. Even with good men and women in the room, which there undoubtedly were, the weight of history is against them. DM


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