Tackling Crime and Corruption
Although countering crime and corruption are rated amongst the government’s top five priorities, the annual budget speech delivered to parliament by the Minister of Finance can offer little more than peek into how the state intends to deal with them. The detail is reserved for the relevant ministers of the criminal justice departments (i.e. the police, justice department and Correctional Services) to flesh out the priorities for the coming year. Despite the absence of detail, an analysis of the national budget allocations for criminal justice allows for the identification of trends in spending over time.
This year’s budget represents a notable shift in criminal justice spending. For the first time since 2007/8 the rate of increase in spending on the criminal justice system (CJS) is set to change quite considerably compared to previous years. In the five years between 2007/08 and 2012/13, the allocation to the criminal justice system as a whole increased by 70 percent (from R56.1 billion to R95.8 billion). This means that the CJS budget was growing at an average annual rate of over 14 percent per annum, at least double the inflation rate. However, for the next three financial years until 2014/15 the rate of the increase in spending on the CJS is set to slow, to an average annual increase of 6.9 percent.
While some may find this concerning, it does make sense for the Minister of Finance to stabilise spending on the criminal justice system and bring the annual increase in line with inflation. There are at least two reasons for this: the first is that there is no evidence to show that increased spending over the past four years has resulted in increased efficiency or effectiveness on the part of CJS departments. Secondly, there is n clear link between increased spending and decreased crime rates. For example, there were approximately 120 000 SAPS personnel in 1998, a number which grew to 195 000 as of 2011. The only crime to decrease consistently is murder, which is now 50 percent lower than at the birth of democracy. The police have repeatedly stated that the vast majority of murders in South Africa are as a result of interpersonal dynamics and that there is little that they can do to prevent or reduce it.
On the other hand, residential and business robberies, which are very susceptible to good police, work, increased by 51 percent and 295 percent respectively between 2004/5 and 2009/10 at a time when police spending and personnel figures were also rising dramatically. The success against specific violent crimes such as residential robbery (down by 10 percent) or hijacking (down by 23 percent) over the past couple of years, can be attributed to better use of existing resources as opposed to having more resources. The government appears to have understood that the challenge with the CJS related more to better spending rather than the amount that is spent. General Bheki Cele pointed to this overall challenge when he stated before parliament in 2011 that, “We have not been big on quality, we have been big on quantity. People have been thrown in by chasing quantity rather than quality.”
Although relatively little detail was given about tackling crime and priorities of the criminal justice system, far more focus has been given to addressing corruption. During the 2011 budget speech, the Minister of Finance noted that corruption in the government procurement processes “… compromises the integrity of governance and frustrates the pace of service delivery.” This year he claimed that, “Our joint multi-disciplinary approach to investigations is bearing fruit.” However, unlike in 2011, he did not provide figures this year from which to measure the stated improvements.
The Head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Advocate Willie Hofmeyer, provided additional detail when he stated this week that over the past 18 months, investigations were started against 392 people who were suspected of being involved in corruption, with183 of them having appeared. The key challenge arises in relation to punishment as only nine of these people have been convicted. In the past decade, only five people who had obtained assets to the value of R5 million or more using corrupt means, have been convicted. Clearly, committing grand corruption in South Africa is a low risk pursuit.
Although government has heralded its intention to change this situation with the announcement of the target to arrest 100 people involved in this level of corruption by 2014. Hofmeyer’s assessment is that this is “ambitious”, because, “… the difficulty... is that there is not a great coherence to what we do. There is not a single place where the accountability rests.” This is despite the existence of the justice clusters’ Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT) that was established a year ago exactly for this purpose.
Nevertheless, it does appear that Treasury is taking the challenge of corruption increasingly seriously and is tightening government procurement procedures to prevent abuse. In this respect Gordham highlighted a raft of new measures. Amongst others, these include:
- appointing a Chief Procurement Officer who will have overall responsibility for monitoring procurement across government;
- reviewing the competencies and capabilities required to perform the procurement function and vetting all the procurement officers to be appointed;
- National Treasury will develop a national price reference system, to detect deviations from acceptable prices; and
- jointly reviewing the validity and cost effectiveness of all government property leases.
While these measures by Treasury are laudable, the reality is that it will require a great deal more than this to tackle corruption. However, structures and procedures capable of tackling corruption successfully need to be headed by people whose integrity are beyond reproach and who are able to take action against anyone where there is evidence of corruption no matter how powerful. This requires a level of political will and support over which the Minister of Finance unfortunately has little control.
Head of the Crime and Justice Programme
Institute for Security Studies.