A better life for all is still a dream
Maladministration, corruption blamed for Free State hardship
ON THURSDAY last week, we marked 18 years since Nelson Mandela was inaugurated president.
Many of us recall how the atmosphere on May 10 1994 was filled with excitement, pride and hope.
Finally, we had abandoned our unjust, exclusive and painful past and were poised for the realisation of an inclusive constitutional state anchored in the rule of law, human rights and a better life for all.
My own reflections brought about a mixture of joy and sadness. It gave me a sense of joy to note that on many fronts of the human conditions in our country, today is better than yesterday. For example, many more people have homes of their own, access to education, access to water and access to social security grants.
There is more even distribution of employment opportunities, particularly in the public sector. Inclusivity in the ownership of and control over the economy has also grown steadily, albeit slowly.
But I could not help feeling sad that many of our people are unemployed, with the figures currently being estimated at about 25%.
My reflections primarily centred on the challenges of maladministration and corruption and the impact of these on the constitutional promise of a prosperous South Africa.
This South African dream is, after all, what powered the struggle that saw Mandela being inaugurated as democratic South Africa's first president. That is the struggle the faith community joined sometimes at personal cost to some of its members, among those Dr Beyers Naudé, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa and many members of Diakonia.
The question I ask is: have we done all we could to deliver the South African dream?
Can we legitimately continue to blame the lack of or poor progress on some of the fronts, particularly the elimination of poverty and under-development on apartheid?
Can we blame the lack of basic services such as water and sanitary facilities or education facilities on apartheid?
My experience has convinced me that maladministration and corruption are responsible for many unfulfilled aspects of the South African dream.
The story of the people of Nala in Free State supports my conclusions.
The complaint was that a forensic report seeking to address the causes of systemic service delivery failure and ensure accountability for related misconduct, including fraud and corruption, had not been implemented.
Nothing had prepared my team and I for some of the inhumane conditions we discovered.
We started with incomplete RDP houses that we were told had been in that condition, mainly installed foundations, since the eve of the last national elections in April 2009.
Then we went to see an unused community park that had allegedly been paid for but had virtually nothing and had grown wild.
We then went to various sites reflecting a dysfunctional sewerage system. This included a pump that was no longer in use, a stream of sewerage water that we were told had just been pumped out shortly before our visit after having overflooded to nearby houses for a long time, and a purification plant that had not worked for weeks.
The image that has haunted me since the visit, though, was the encounter with a grandmother and a dysfunctional bucket toilet system.
When we visited Gogo J, the bucket had not been collected for days. She advised that she often dug holes in her backyard to empty the buckets. But she complained that her grandchildren often excavated the waste when playing in the yard and, when the buckets were full, the children regularly relieved themselves in the backyard.
She advised that four members of her family had TB, which she attributed to her appalling living conditions.
The sad reality is that Gogo J's home did have a modern toilet next to the makeshift one which used a bucket.
During talks with Gogo J and later with the team of community representatives taking us around, we were informed that the reason the proper toilet had become a white elephant was that the piping ended just in front of the toilet and did not link to any reticulation system.
It was further alleged that the company that did the shoddy job had been paid in full and even more than the original contract price.
The complaint that had brought us there was that a forensic report that had uncovered everything and advised on action to be taken against wrongdoers was gathering dust.
The community representatives further alleged that the alleged wrongdoers were being protected because they had powerful connections.
If it is true that contractors were unlawfully favoured, resulting in abuse of state resources, because of powerful connections, that is corruption as defined in the Prevention and Combating of CorruptActivities Act.
That also fits in with Transparency International's definition of corruption as abuse of entrusted power for personal gain. What we know for now is that the forensic report does confirm allegations of corruption, fraud, abuse of state resources and other forms ofmaladministration.
What we also know is that what happened in Monyakeng cannot be consistent with service delivery in pursuit of a better life for all.
We can also confirm that money will have to be found somewhere to redo what should have been done properly in the first instance.
An encouraging facet of the Nala story is the fact that, despite the extreme conditions, the community has still chosen to pursue an avenue provided by the Constitution to engage with the organs of state involved.
This brings me to the mandate of the Public Protector, which is one of the public accountability avenues given to the people by theConstitution.
The faith community is also well placed to play an effective role in efforts aimed at combating the twin evils of maladministration and corruption in state affairs.
This is not to say there is no corruption in civil society. In fact, quite the opposite, we have corruption in the public sector because there is corruption in civil society. Otherwise, who corrupts those who exercise public power? Furthermore, persons in the public sector are members of all our communities.
This is why I believe we are where we are in terms of state behaviour because of the choices we have made collectively as a society.
The faith community is excellently positioned to play a role in generating a proper public service ethos that informs public sector decision-making as one that sees public service as stewardship.
Those exercising public power need to know it is not their power they exercise but it's power given by the people on the basis of trust to be used in service to the people and not the self-interests of those entrusted with such power.
The faith community's contribution to form part of moral regeneration should also include entrenching anti-corruption attitudes and behaviour both in the public sector and civil society.
The power to turn the tide against maladministration and corruption in pursuit of the consolidation of our democracy lies in our collective hands.
One of the things we need to do is to stop politicising corruption and take responsibility for it.
Corruption thrives because it tends to be posed as a disease that only affects politicians. What about the public servants? And what about the civil society people that offer or pay bribes to those in the public sector.
In fact, the reality is that most maladministration and corruption in government takes place at the lower operational levels without the involvement of politicians.
Let us take the Nala experience. Who are the engineers that certified that the piping had been installed according to specifications?
They certainly are not politicians. What has been their accountability? I've asked the same questions at Bramfischerville in Soweto where the community is also battling with a dysfunctional sewerage system.
Of course, the politicians should provide leadership and oversight. When they interfere in operations, as is alleged in Nala, it is then that they can be legitimately blamed.
- This is an edited version of a speech delivered by the public protector at a dialogue hosted by the Diakonia Council of Churches in Durban on Friday