THE most significant thing about South Africa’s slide down the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is that no one is surprised.
There are a raft of complaints before Public Protector Thuli Madonsela; the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has a mountain of corruption proclamations on its table; and auditor-general Terence Nombembe has found numerous irregularities during his inspection of the books of state departments and entities.
At issue is that the administration of President Jacob Zuma, despite numerous statements of zero tolerance against corruption, is congenitally unable to combat corruption. This is because literally hundreds of charges of corruption against the president himself were dropped on dubious grounds, and because Mr Zuma is embroiled in allegations that the state’s coffers were raided to make improvements to his private home.
The two most fertile areas for corruption to flourish are in the procurement of goods and services for government and the widespread habit of officials and/or their families doing business with their own departments. Mr Nombembe listed officials doing business with their own departments in just about every audit report delivered this year, but ministerial replies to parliamentary questions show that only a handful have been held to account.
This practice inevitably results in the government paying inflated prices for goods and services, with the money wasted or stolen from the state being estimated at about R50bn.
Mr Zuma’s administration also stands accused of failing to enact legislation that would make officials doing business with their own departments a criminal offence.
Further, he has been sharply criticised for failing to appoint a credible person to head the National Prosecuting Authority after the Constitutional Court ruling that his appointment to the job, Menzi Simelane, was not a fit and proper person.
The scrapping of the corruption-busting Scorpions and their replacement with the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (Hawks) has also been lambasted because the Hawks are not sufficiently independent from political interference.
It is worth recording that earlier this year Ms Madonsela said: "Corruption is endemic in our country, both in the public and private sectors. If we don’t deal with corruption decisively, it will not only impact on good governance, but has the potential to distort our economy and to derail democracy. We are at a tipping point".
Corruption Watch head David Lewis said: "We are not surprised. The survey echoes what we hear in the thousands of reports from ordinary people confronting corruption daily.
"We are flooded with important policy documents like the National Development Plan and comments by the minister of finance, among others, condemning corruption. And yet the year ends with some very serious corruption allegations directed at no less than the president and his family and the unfortunate decision to forge ahead with the secrecy bill."
Democratic Alliance (DA) correctional services spokesman James Selfe said: "The DA is shocked at the pervasive nature and extent of corruption and maladministration in government in South Africa. The current SIU investigations involve 32 municipalities (including two metros and 24 municipalities in North West alone), six national departments, 12 provincial departments (from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape) and three parastatals. The extent of corruption and maladministration runs to billions of rand and involves hundreds of officials.
"It is good that investigations are taking place, but it seems that very few prosecutions and still fewer convictions result from these investigations." And to the extent that there are consequences, these seem to be faced by officials.
DA MP on the watchdog public accounts committee Dion George said: "South Africa’s slide down the CPI rankings has accelerated under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.
"We have seen South Africa drop 14 places on the index between 2009 and 2012. This is hardly surprising, given that the president himself had 783 charges of corruption against him, which were withdrawn under dubious circumstances.
"Over the past year the government had a lacklustre response to public sector corruption:
• The president himself has been embroiled in the Nkandlagate saga;
• We are yet to see a permanent appointment to the position of head of the SIU;
• A report by the Public Service Commission confirmed that serious corruption arises out of situations where public servants do business with the state — while the government refuses to adopt legislation which would make these cosy business deals illegal."