SA mimicking the rest of Africa in allowing corruption to flourish
Business Day (South Africa)
|Published: 2011/11/28 07:44:30 AM|
ZAMBIAN President Michael Sata probably had the right idea when he decided to embark on a widespread firing spree in order to rid his country of corruption, given how entrenched the malaise has become in Zambia. Victims to date have included 73 district commissioners, the central bank governor, the heads of various branches of the armed forces, and the national police commissioner. Sata has dissolved the boards of the revenue and pensions authorities, fired ambassadors, parastatal chiefs and the head of the anti corruption body itself.It is too soon to say if these actions are politically motivated or if his own administration will, in the long term, perpetuate, rather than fight, corruption. But the size of the “clean sweep” shows the scale of the problem.
A study released by Transparency International last week highlighted the fact that corruption has got worse in Southern Africa over the past year. The organisation surveyed bribery in six countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, SA, Zambia and Zimbabwe — over 12 months last year and this year and found that 62% of respondents believed corruption had got worse over the period. More than half who had come into contact with service providers had been asked to pay a bribe. The worst offender was the police. The implicit threat posed by a corrupt policeman makes this nothing less than a protection racket on a regional scale.
After the police, the most bribes were solicited by registry and permit services, customs officials and the judiciary. In all countries but Mozambique, political parties came a close second to police in corruption. The sectors in which most bribes were paid were, unsurprisingly, public works contracts and tenders as well as utilities, both with links to government.
An alarming finding was the fact that SA had the third-highest number of bribe-payers among the respondents — 56% of respondents, higher than Zambia and Zimbabwe. The main reason for paying bribes in SA was to avoid problems with the authorities, while in other African countries it was related more to getting services.
I have attended many discussions on doing business in Africa in which South Africans relate stories about their brushes with corruption in other African countries with a mixture of awe and derision. But one does not have to cross the border any more to have the experience.
While corruption in SA may not yet be as colourful or as brazen as it is in many other African countries, it may just be a matter of time before foreigners coming to SA to conduct business relate the same type of stories back home.
The moral laxity at the top of the political pile coupled with a lack of consequences for being found to be corrupt is worming its way through the system. Corruption is not something that happens overnight. It is a slow- moving line. Countries that have become legend for corruption, such as Nigeria, the Congo and Kenya, became that way for a variety of reasons, mostly poor governance. They are finding it difficult to tackle the problem because it is not just a matter of underpaid state officials soliciting bribes; it has become embedded in the entire political process. The very people who can change things are themselves benefiting from the system.
Making an exception because of party or personal loyalty over principle is where it starts. It does not take long for this to become a precedent in the broader society.
Zambia has an opportunity to tackle a scourge that has undermined its progress if it does not retreat into the more familiar pattern of political expedience and patronage.
But in SA, we seem doomed to repeat the mistakes made by other countries in allowing corruption to flourish. It is not too late for SA to stop the rot, but the passing of legislation that effectively promises more censorship and political protection to corrupt officials does not send a signal that the state is concerned about where it is taking us.