The release on 23 January 2020 of the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International instils little hope and confidence that inroads were made in reversing South Africa’s negative CPI of 2018. It has been such an ambivalent reaction, because several interventions came to light since the release of the 2018 CPI.
Shamila Batohi was appointed as National Director of Public Prosecutions and Hermione Cronjé was appointed as the head of the NPA’s corruption investigative directorate in 2019. These two appointments were viewed by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola as a sign that the fight against corruption is on. Moreover, the revelations of corrupt activities of Bosasa, the company that was alleged to have contributed R500,000 to the CR17 campaign, and the evidence of possible involvement by senior politicians in state capture heard by the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture were generally seen as making inroads into tackling corruption.
The commonality between the 2019 CPI for South Africa and the recent calls to cut short the lifespan of the Zondo Commission can be summarised as follows: “There is a perceived lack of a demonstration of the ability to prosecute grand corruption and there is a general lethargy from political parties to hold their former politicians and public officials accountable for the misuse of state resources.”
It is clear from the 2019 CPI that South Africa made no significant improvement in 2019. The country is now ranked 44, compared to the ranking of 43 in 2018. But that is not a cause for celebration because the improvement made is marginal. What this translates into is that South Africa remains among the most corrupt countries in the world. Interestingly, the 2019 CPI Report indicates that the sub-Saharan Africa region is the lowest scoring region at 32/100. This, according to Transparency International, shows “a bleak picture of inaction against corruption”.
Year after year, State of the Nation Address (SONA) commitment after SONA commitment, South Africa is failing to shake off corruption and corrupt practices – real and perceived. Why should this be the case? What is taking the government of South Africa so long to reverse the trend? Is it perhaps that the African curse of popularity at the polls is holding us back from doing the right thing, including backsliding from our anti-corruption gains?
South Africa is not among countries that improved since the 2018 CPI results compared, for example, to Guyana. With a score of 40/100, Guyana, the South American country formerly known as British Guiana, showed improvement. Transparency International credits the improvement of Guyana’s standing to the government’s demonstration of “political will to hold former politicians accountable for the misuse of state resources”. Can it be that the government of South Africa has been talking a lot of anti-corruption in 2019, but with the not-serious political will to hold current and former politicians accountable for corruption and for the misuse of state resources?
Perhaps we are all guilty as a society for this lack of improvement of CPI as we tend to base hope on rhetorical language and phrases such as “political will”. Linn Hammergren in her 1998 study titled Political Will, Constituency Building, and Public Support in Rule of Law Programs describes “political will” as “the slipperiest concept in the policy lexicon”, explaining in part political failures when the cause of the failures cannot be addressed, or when it becomes difficult to clearly diagnose the failure.
Efforts of investigative journalists, public advocacy against corruption and some political parties seem not to be forceful and impactful enough to help generate the necessary political energy to prosecute corruption. This sentiment was echoed by David Lewis, Corruption Watch executive director, who in relation to the 2019 CPI, stated that South Africa’s political will to prosecute corruption is still unsatisfactory.
“The South African public has made it clear that until there is visible progress in prosecuting those responsible for corruption and until there is a visible improvement in the ability of state-owned enterprises to deliver their vital services, government’s promises to combat corruption will not be trusted,” said Lewis.
What should be concerning to the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa is that the delay in the signing into law of the Political Party Funding Act passed in January 2019 has not been received well by institutions like Corruption Watch. The delay has been flagged as one of the reasons for the continuing perception that South Africa is not bothered by corruption within the ranks of politicians and political parties.
“Unless there is a clear, demonstrated political will to enforce key measures and legislation regulating political party funding, as well as to hold internal party members accountable, the perception remains that the country is not doing enough,” Corruption Watch said.
The benefits of living in a state that abhors corruption and a government that is free from corruption, or the consequences of corruption, are discussed in almost every study, or discourse – political and non-political. A call is made again for South Africa to improve its CPI standing. This should be an easy effort to traverse because Transparency International has made available seven key recommendations to improve our standing as a country.
These recommendations must be used by the state and the NPA to reinvigorate the country’s anti-corruption strategy:
South Africa is fortunate to have investigative journalists with a global footprint, some of whom are also members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, dedicated to in-depth investigative stories.
Corruption is an impediment to the protection, promotion and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms. Until such time as South Africa improves its CPI, the country’s sterling human rights record runs the risk of being overshadowed by the negative perception of corruption. DM
"Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth" ~ Aristotle