'But the implementation of the anti-corruption measures is a big challenge'

Wendell Roelf and Sapa

Wendell Roelf and Sapa

As former deputy president Jacob Zuma prepares to face charges of corruption in July, South Africa is poised to sign a comprehensive anti-bribery pact with the world's top trading nations.

South Africa is in the process of acceding to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

"Because the OECD has highly-rated normative standards, including peer review, the benefits of signing are two-fold - investors have a high regard for the convention and it could lead to more direct foreign investment," said Ishara Bodasing, an anti-corruption specialist at the Department of Public Service and Administration.

"The other is tapping into the research and technical expertise of the OECD."

The convention commits 34 signatory countries - all 30 OECD members and four nonmembers, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria and Chile - to adopt common rules to punish companies and individuals who engage in bribery.

The convention makes provision for extradition and mutual legal assistance, and deals with what is called "active corruption" or "active bribery" - meaning the offence committed by the person who promises or gives the bribe, as contrasted with "passive bribery", the offence committed by an official who receives the bribe.

Bodasing said the OECD's initial monitoring process involved an assessment of conformity of South Africa's anti-bribery laws with the convention, and meetings with stakeholders from government, business, trade unions and civil society to determine how effective the country's laws are.

Bodasing said South Africa, a non-member participant of the OECD's working group on bribery, was the only African country invited to sign the convention.

"Possibly by the end of August," she said.

Unisa professor of international law, Andre Thomashausen said signing the convention would increase international credibility.

"There are accusations that South African companies, especially when entering the African market, don't practise what they preach," said Thomashausen.

Regarding the Zuma corruption case, he said the convention could not be applied retrospectively.

Thomashausen said: "But France, which is involved in the Zuma case, is bound by and should be prosecuting the corruptors in France, and should be cooperating with South Africa in this.

"And South Africa should remind other industrialised countries that they signed the convention and should implement it."

However, he said Thales, the French company implicated in the Zuma corruption trial, could only be prosecuted if the bribery allegations occurred after June 30 2000, the date when the legislation was adopted in France.

The alleged deal to conclude the bribe between Alan Thetard of Thales and Zuma was done in March 2000.

"It's about setting a new and international anti-corruption standard - a relative small corrupt favour, even a discount on a car, such as for Tony Yengeni, can result in a bad decision that can cost a country hundreds of millions."

Hennie van Vuuren, head of the corruption and governance unit at the Institute for Security Studies, notes in his Transparency International 2005 country study report that South Africa had developed an advanced framework of law, strategy and institutions with a mandate to fight corruption.

"Despite political will that does exist, the implementation of anti-corruption measures is a challenge," Van Vuuren said.

He said corruption was a challenge at provincial and local government levels, affecting service delivery to the poor.

At national level, Van Vuuren said, billions of rands were lost to corruption in social welfare, the labour ministry and the Road Accident Fund.

"The private sector, a major source of corruption, might be losing more than R50billion a year to fraud and corruption."

Van Vuuren said increased cooperation between anti-corruption agencies was key.

Van Vuuren said South Africa needed to implement its existing anti-bribery laws with greater vigour.

"The alleged Thales bribe shows how damaging foreign bribery can be.

"We need to break with bad precedents set by the Europeans, Americans, Chinese and others - even if only because companies that bribe abroad are likely to import the same corrupt practices back home."

He criticised the OECD countries' record in enforcing the convention, saying low levels of enforcement sent a signal that they were "not serious" about supply-side corruption.

"This is not about corrupt African officials.

"It's also about corrupt foreign business people."

Van Vuuren said because South Africa was a signatory, it needed to leverage greater compliance.

Besides the new convention, South Africa is also a signatory of the United Nations pact, and the African Union Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Corruption.