Fighting Corruption in South Africa: The Role of Civil of Society

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Friday, 27 January, 2017 - 11:05

In this article, the author focuses on the role that civil society organisations should play in the fight against corruption in South Africa

Recent media reports on the Seriti Commission’s report and the Constitutional Court judgement and the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla, to name but a few, reveal an unacceptable state of affairs where public finances have been grossly mismanaged. The good news is that civil society in South Africa has not been silent in watching these unprecedented events unfold. Corruption Watch, an anti-corruption organisation based in Johannesburg, has been at the forefront in the fight against corruption in the public sector. Its efforts, as well as those of many other organisations engaged in similar work, should be supported by all citizens that are concerned with promoting the rule of law to strengthen and consolidate our hard-won democracy. We are observing increasing consciousness among civil society organisations in South Africa that citizens are moving from passive acceptance of corruption to public condemnation. This is an important step in the right direction, as civil society should never be silent.

However, the struggle for clean, corruption free governance in both the public and private sectors does not end there. There are several mechanisms that civil society should actively promote in order to root out corruption.
Firstly, civil society’s watchfulness should generate the necessary political will on the part of all levels of governance to deal with corruption in all its forms. Corrupt activities in the public and private sectors should be criminalised. This would encourage institutions to adopt strict anti-corruption measures with stringent rules of conduct. It is imperative that the private sector come on board and support civil society organisations in their efforts to combat rampant corruption in both sectors. This would counter the widely-held narrative that business benefits from corrupt dealings with the state.

Secondly, civil society should ensure that anti-bribery instruments, including judicial pronouncements against corrupt public and private sector leaders, are enforced. It should develop a clear process to monitor implementation. This would inform advocacy efforts, and exert pressure on the state and its agencies to speed up the implementation of remedial actions prescribed by courts of law, and commissions of enquiry including the Public Protector’s reports. Furthermore, civil society should monitor whether politicians are honouring their commitments to fight corruption and expose them if they deviate from such undertakings.
Thirdly, the monitoring process must be transparent at all times. It should be open to public scrutiny and ensure active participation of all stakeholders, including government agencies, the business community and civil society representing citizens’ voices. Transparency is critical in ensuring the credibility of the monitoring process and the validity of any reports emanating from such processes for public consumption. In this regard, channels of communication must be established to enable civil society organizations and ordinary citizens, including vulnerable populations, to express their opinions and these must be taken into consideration in the monitoring processes.

Finally, civil society should continue to exert pressure on the government to enforce existing legislation to criminalise corruption in all its forms. South Africa is not short of such legislation; what is lacking is implementation and the necessary political will to enforce it without discrimination. As civil society continues with its advocacy efforts, calls to enforce existing legislation would strengthen the law relating to financial crime and all those involved in such activities. Civil society should be at the forefront of exposing corruption in both the public and private sectors and exert pressure for investigations and sanctions.

In conclusion, civil society in South Africa has an important role to play in fighting corruption. In order to maintain its watchdog role and be taken seriously, it should avoid questionable allegiances with the state and its agencies, including political parties. Such independence is critical in the fight against corruption and strengthens civil society’s relentless calls for a clean and corrupt-free society. 

- Paul Kariuki is the Programmes Manager for the Democracy Development Programme. He is also a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Civil Society Organisations Coalition Executive Committee. He writes in his personal capacity.
Photo Courtesy: Ridge Times

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