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Challenges and opportunities to enhance social mobilisation to combat corruption
by Prof Evangelos Mantzaris
Hon Sociology, Public Administration & Economic Science, Ph.D Sociology
Part of this article has been based on an empirical report on South Africa’s National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council (NACAC), as identified in South Africa’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2020-2030, first announced in President Ramaphosa’s 2021 State of the Nation Address.
This article was sponsored and subsidised by the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI), an institution that functions autonomously and independently from any other entity.
The question of trust
The lack of political trust in South Africa is founded principally, if not exclusively, on political acts such as corruption, lack of ethics, state capture and perpetual legal violations. These everyday realities threaten the very legitimacy of the system, leading to mistrust and non-compliance with the law by citizens.
Whereas political trust is founded on good governance based on the existence of accountability mechanisms and ethical codes in all spheres of life. Citizens expect good and ethical governance at all levels of society, meaning that politicians and public administrators are obligated and expected to adhere to the principles of accountability, transparency and integrity, which are the cornerstones of anti-corruption measures such as detection, prevention and deterrence.
Policies and their honest and transparent implementation are the foundation of accountable, people-based service delivery. Political trust is not won by verbose party manifestos, distribution of food parcels or pre-election promises, but by politicians’ and administrators’ actions. Once citizens realise that manifestos, policies and promises are forgotten, mistrust becomes a tangible reality and takes on a wide variety of forms – founded on a vast array of individual and community thoughts, perceptions, relationships and actions – leading to political and social outcomes that illustrate a mixture of power relations and contradictions.
Trust is both a collective and an individual reality that is inevitably transformed into feelings, relationships, plans and activities – the latter two of which are, in society, determined by the government’s answers to citizens’ questions. Recently, government’s plans and activities have been negatively associated with a plethora of dirty dealings, including two of its Cabinet Ministers spending R3.5 million in hotel accommodation, and the Covid-19 supply chain and procurement-based multibillion-rand theft. The impact of such actions on the relationship between the government and its citizens hugely undermines the honesty, accountability and legitimacy upon which administrative mechanisms operate within a democracy that is healthy and corruption-free.
Every time a new policy is announced, political trust is brought into question. All levels and positions in the state apparatus come under scrutiny: from the president to the provincial premier, municipal mayor, judiciary, political parties, ‘corrupt mediators’, even the politicians’ families. In fact, the whole system comes under the spotlight. In most cases, personal distrust overlaps with governmental distrust, because policy, planning and implementation is in most instances personified by a specific individual. Familiar faces in political and senior administration dominate all social media, while middle managers in the small municipalities living it up and driving the Maseratis escape detection until exposed by whistle-blowers. Political leaders are the faces of the regimes and systems they represent.
Citizens’ trust in state institutions and their rulings, or opposition parties, is a serious barometer of a healthy democracy. This trust epitomises the very essence of democratic legitimacy that is both internalised and externalised by peoples’ zest for wholehearted willingness to participate and act in the building of a democratic State that rewards honesty and punishes corruption.
The South African case
The latest widely acknowledged and respected opinion poll by Afrobarometer has shown that trust in the country’s Parliament has declined to 27 per cent and in the president to 38 per cent. And for the first time during the existence of the opinion poll initiative trust in the courts of law has dropped to 43 per cent.
Furthermore, the level of trust in the African National Congress has fallen to 27 per cent and is especially low among more educated and younger South Africans, while the opposition parties’ tally is at a lower 24 per cent. The Public Protector received a 42 per cent vote of trust, while only 36 per cent trusted the Electoral Commission of South Africa, with trust levels particularly low among younger respondents. The Department of Health recorded the highest level of trust in comparison to other state institutions (56 per cent).
Challenges and opportunities to enhance social mobilisation to combat corruption
The path to social accountability is paved through the generation and articulation of citizens’ voices, to elicit enforcement of sanctions when public service provision fails, and to promote answerability of public authorities. Therefore, effective social accountability is made up of three building blocks: voices, enforcement and answers.
The fundamental initiatives consist of:
The achievement of citizens’ participation in the fight against corruption and paving the way to social accountability initiatives can only be achieved through citizens’ active involvement and coordination that leads to collective action capabilities.
The existing local context realities are the foundation of the successful planning, designing and implementing of social accountability initiatives to counter corruption in the delivery of public services.
Deep study and understanding of citizens’ expectations and attitudes is at the root of preparing the strategic State path in the process of tailoring capacity building activities that empower citizens to counter corruption.
Continuous engagement of all trusted and widely respected stakeholders and actors in their communities, enabling them to share and articulate the communities’ voices. This makes social accountability initiatives more effective.
Creation and development of participatory budgeting, leading directly to the planning, formulation, decision-making and monitoring of budget execution, especially at local government level.
The challenges and opportunities: Concrete answers for the way forward
The focus begins and ends with empirical evidence and is based on known final results. These results point to a fundamental absence of an anti-corruption coordinating body based on concrete and well accepted and known international examples. Historically speaking, it will be nationally and internationally understood that the Zondo Commission has shown with concrete evidence many corrupt individuals in the public sector. And yet, after fair court decisions only ten of these individuals have been jailed. How then, can citizens be expected to trust their government?
The answer can be found in the historical success of anti-corruption coordinating bodies in Africa instrumental in enhancing social mobilisation to combat corruption.
In Rwanda, the Anti-Corruption Advisory Council is headed by the country’s Chief Ombudsman and includes nine members from the key state departments, civil society organisations and private sector. A coordinating Secretariat is responsible for a daily campaign covering the whole country and reports the corruption and anti-corruption failures and successes daily on radio, television and social media. Furthermore, all the Council members communicate daily with the media, private sector and civil society, convincing them to become actively involved against corruption and mobilise their communities and constituencies to become an integral part of the effort.
The Council operates at national level but is also decentralised at district, sector and cell levels. The country’s civil society leadership has been encouraged to cooperate with the Council to sensitise the public to the consequences of corruption, research and reports of corruption to the police, National Public Prosecution Authority, and the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Council’s key responsibilities are to research and report/opine on strategies against corruption; thoroughly study and research all reports that emanate from anti-corruption institutions and recommendations to advance the fight against corruption; maintain continuous channels of information exchange on corruption between institutions; research, assess and evaluate all reports that emanate from organisations regarding corruption in Rwanda and recommendations that are based on their positions; planning and implementation of all processes resulting in the approval and publication of an annual report of the achievements in the fight against corruption in Rwanda.
The success towards building the foundations that will lead to social mobilisation and, ultimately, social accountability can be easily compromised by specific historical, political or cultural experiences, which can influence the communities’ behaviour and attitudes towards the government at all levels. As international and South African literature has shown, there are key common issues, such as lack of citizens’ knowledge of their rights and corruption realities as well as types and particularities of corruption. These realities could be tackled through several initiatives that are achievable at all government levels, but initially beginning in the local government terrain:
Awareness and promotion of the values of honesty and integrity among all communities, with a view to prevent corruption.
Organisation of classes and community-based special meetings, beginning with district and local municipalities, on all subjects dealing with corrupt acts, their types, and the role of communities in their defeat. At municipal levels, the community leaders as well as the ward committees can and should play a key role in mobilisation.
Identification of the causes of corruption in the context of the area’s socio-economic conditions.
Investigation of a public officer’s conduct that the community or its members have reasonable grounds to believe relates to corrupt practices.
Coordination and cooperation with all known state institutions and anti-corruption entities and organisations authorised to investigate, prosecute, prevent and combat corrupt practices.
Consultation, cooperation and information exchange/s with the appropriate bodies locally, provincially and/or nationally authorised to conduct inquiries or investigations in relation to corruption.
Adaptation and strengthening of mechanisms for educating the public to respect the public good and public interest.
Development of educational and other programmes in collaboration with civil society organisations and disseminating information and sensitising the public to the negative effects of corruption.
The creation of an anti-corruption coordinating body run at its initial phase by a highly trained, knowledgeable and skilled Secretariat will have several key responsibilities, including:
Research and reports/opinions on strategies against corruption.
Thorough study and research of all reports emanating from anti-corruption institutions and recommendations to advance the fight against corruption.
Maintenance of continuous channels of information exchange on corruption among all anti-corruption institutions.
Research, assessment and evaluation of all reports that emanate from organisations regarding corruption and recommendations that are based on their positions; planning and implementation of all anti-corruption processes.
Collective effort on the part of all government, civil society and communities throughout the country to become aware of and active about reports and existing government strategies and plans against corruption; Secretariat-planned reports and initiatives emanating from anti-corruption institutions and entities in the effort to advance the fight against corruption; continuous exchange of all channels of information on corruption between all anti-corruption institutions and communities and all varieties of media; all reports and results of anti-corruption cases undertaken by anti-corruption agencies and institutions; monthly anti-corruption reports distributed to all national, provincial and local state departments and institutions, including the cases and successes in the corruption and anti-corruption efforts.
All these initiatives, plans, designs, and their implementation will take place under the auspices of the Project Management Office. The entity’s main objective is to operationalise the existing policies, strategies and procedures together with the existing multilateral initiatives on governance and anti-corruption; identify the dynamics and realities for risk analysis and institutional assessments; governance and anti-corruption project design measures and supervision monitoring, and evaluation and similar operational matters.
The following little-known case points to the need for the next unit, the Whistle-Blower Protection Unit:
Grishen Bujram (43) was an underground MK fighter and a UDF activist in the 1980s. Later, as a whistle-blowing ANC councillor in the Endumeni Local Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, Bujram was gunned down in Sibongile Township near Dundee on 15 June 2007. He had reported the unlawful sale of 17 RDP houses by then-ANC Mayor Thandeka Nukani – who had also acquired one for herself – to the police, the council, and all ANC structures. The two men implicated in the murder used the mayor’s car during the crime. Both were convicted and jailed, one for life and the other for 20 years. The mayor was also charged and appeared in court, but the charges were eventually withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.
Whistle-blower protection is crucial for the success of anti-corruption detection and enforcement and should be a key aspect of any whistle-blowing system. Indeed, it will be one of the most important duties and responsibilities of the Secretariat. This is due to the nature of the corrupt individuals involved: those parties who stand to reap substantial benefits through their corrupt activities also stand to be arrested and seriously punished if they get caught out. Politicians and administrators who risk reporting these corrupt activities therefore put themselves and their families, co-workers and managers in potentially serious danger.
The Whistle-Blower Protection Unit is responsible for considering the circumstances under which suspicions of wrongdoing can be reported inside and outside the organisation; has the knowledge and means to provide legal and physical protection to whistle-blowers; ensures that existing reporting channels, such as information hotlines, also exist for individuals working in the private sector; encourages positive attitudes towards whistle-blowing among citizens by promoting whistle-blowing policies and publicising post-reporting follow-up; ensures that individuals considering reporting suspected cases of wrongdoing have access to advice that is confidential and free of charge; forms part of external bodies such as NGOs and national associations; and introduces periodic assessments of the effectiveness of rules and regulations on the protection of whistle-blowers.
It needs to be understood that as insiders, whistle-blowers have unique knowledge, access and expertise with regards their organisations and, therefore, also with regards the functions and dysfunctions of their institutional realities. This information allows them to detect corruption or other matters of concern that might otherwise remain hidden. However, this knowledge often places them in a difficult position, owing to loyalty to colleagues and supervisors, contractual confidentiality obligations, and the risk of retaliation.
This scenario pinpoints the challenges associated with the distinction between the three different types of reporting: anonymous, where a report or information is received, but no one knows the source; open, where individuals openly report or disclose information, or state that they do not require their identity to be kept secret; and confidential, where the identity of the informant is known to the recipient, but will not be disclosed without the individual's consent, unless required by law. The staff of the entity should be enabled to negotiate with and guide everyone connected to such circumstances as well as the ant-corruption units of the specific institutions.
While legislation exists that provides protection from occupational detriment for employees who disclose information of unlawful or corrupt conduct by their employers or fellow employees, more needs to be done. There are a number of initiatives that could be introduced – such as proper training, which will have a positive effect on the workplace structure, or the introduction of much stronger policies with severe consequences for the corrupt.
The Research and Policy Unit is responsible for researching anti-corruption initiatives. Its key function is to facilitate and conduct research and analytical studies on issues pertaining to the development of anti-corruption initiatives locally, regionally and internationally. Researchers employed in the unit can also be directly involved in staff training throughout the anti-corruption institutional terrain; contacts, meetings and digital conferences can connect staff with colleagues and academic researchers on the African continent for exchange of ideas, research and insights. Potential staff members of such a unit should be university graduates with at least a master’s degree in the social, law or economic sciences, preferably with knowledge of and/or exposure to the anti-corruption genre.
The Education Office operates at two levels: the institutional and the public. The institutional focuses on training all members of NACAC as well as those in all other anti-corruption agencies. The foundation is an ‘induction training programme’ providing basic training to new employees, all of whom spend the first few months of their service in the Research and Policy Unit to improve their knowledge on corruption and anti-corruption scenarios, investigations, successes, processes, structures and challenges, before being considered for their final posting. The new recruits’ training could last at least a year, while the trainees work and learn at the Research and Policy Unit. During the process the courses will include corruption prevention, communication skills, rules of evidence, law, computer forensics, financial investigation skills, and cognitive interview techniques, among others. Throughout the period of employment, the training continues at higher levels.
On the other hand, is the public pillar, which will be reserved for awareness campaigns and educational programmes to mobilise society in the fight against corruption.
From 1994 until 2022, the South African government has enacted and implemented a vast number of laws, official rules and regulations, and introduced a populous and widely diversified group of organisations, institutions and entities to fight corruption, including Chapter 9 entities. All the existing laws, rules and regulations have been rigorously amended, so they are extremely detailed and thorough, and the anti-corruption agencies, organisations and entities have had successes and failures. But while the National Development Plan has accepted that all this effort has, for the most part, not worked, it has done so without providing reasons for the failure.
The South African transition and the theory and practice of the National Democratic Revolution are still in process for many – if we believe the theorists still praying for the success of the French students’ powerful slogan from May 1968: ‘Be realistic, strive for the impossible’. This transition has been given a variety of names, including the ‘deferred revolution’, ‘first transition’, ‘second transition’, ‘second phase of the transition’.
The prophets of the African revolutions, from Thomas Sankara to Oliver Tambo and from Patrice Lumumba to Samara Michel, are gone. The Africanisation of university curricula following the much debated but still misunderstood ‘Fees Must Fall’, is still in the long unveiling process.
The late Claude Ake’s 1978 prophetic book, Revolutionary pressures in Africa, comes to two key conclusions. First, the revolution will be televised – as has been seen in Polokwane, Mangaung and the Expo Centre. And second, the National Democratic Revolution against corruption, greed and avarice cannot take place in stages – this is the key message of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2020-2030. It can only succeed if it is a continuous and un-interrupted process, coordinated efficiently, professionally and honestly.
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This report has been published by the Inclusive Society Institute
The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) is an autonomous and independent institution that functions independently from any other entity. It is founded for the purpose of supporting and further deepening multi-party democracy. The ISI’s work is motivated by its desire to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism, social justice and cohesion, economic development and equality in South Africa, through a value system that embodies the social and national democratic principles associated with a developmental state. It recognises that a well-functioning democracy requires well-functioning political formations that are suitably equipped and capacitated. It further acknowledges that South Africa is inextricably linked to the ever transforming and interdependent global world, which necessitates international and multilateral cooperation. As such, the ISI also seeks to achieve its ideals at a global level through cooperation with like-minded parties and organs of civil society who share its basic values. In South Africa, ISI’s ideological positioning is aligned with that of the current ruling party and others in broader society with similar ideals.
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