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Government can't be trusted to lead fight against corruption, says Zondo

'The ultimate responsibility for leading the fight against corruption in public procurement cannot again be left to a government department or be subject to ministerial control'

Matthew Savides Night news editor
Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo at the release of part 1 of the state capture commission's report at the Union Buildings on Tuesday.
Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo at the release of part 1 of the state capture commission's report at the Union Buildings on Tuesday.
Image: GCIS

South African society has lost faith in state procurement and the government cannot be trusted with the “ultimate responsibility” to lead the fight against corruption.

This is according to acting chief justice and state capture commission chairperson Raymond Zondo in part 1 of the inquiry’s report, which was made public on Tuesday evening.

Towards the end of the document, Zondo decries how state capture has eroded the public’s trust in the state’s ability to handle procurement. This, he said, has enabled criminals to wreak long-lasting damage on the country’s economy.

He writes that the only thing that can turn this around is the establishment of an “anti-corruption body free from political oversight” — and cites how the Hawks themselves “may have been captured”.

Zondo also called for amendments to the Political Party Funding Act, which would include making some donations to political parties illegal.

“The ultimate responsibility for leading the fight against corruption in public procurement cannot again be left to a government department or be subject to ministerial control,” Zondo writes.

“Twenty years of frustration, which includes a decade of state capture, pitilessly exposed the flaws and weaknesses in the public procurement system — flaws and weaknesses which have been exploited by criminals to inflict lasting damage on the South African economy.

“The promise of service delivery so fundamental to the betterment of our society has not materialised. The years of frustration teach us lessons which we cannot ignore.”

These lessons, the document reads, are:

  • “the realisation that the public procurement sector cannot defend itself against those who control the levers of political and state power”;
  • “the excessive decentralisation of our sprawling procurement system which has outrun the collective capacity to manage or operate it efficiently”;
  • “the absence of the robust, detailed and intrusive monitoring of the system undoubtedly facilitates corruption and inefficiency and helps to mask abuse”;
  • “the exclusion of meaningful private sector involvement in formulating policy and in the implementation of policy weakens the procurement system, lessens its transparency and facilities corruption”; and
  • “the absence of accountability makes the system unworkable, corrupts those who operate within that system and establishes and embeds criminal relationships involving commercial entities and public officials and implicates political party funding”.

Fixing the problems will not be easy, Zondo writes. The required reform “requires a coherent and comprehensive plan of action which needs to bring the public and private sectors together in a joint initiative to restore proper standards and discipline within the procurement system”.

For Zondo, one of the ways to fix the problems is the establishment of an independent body to provide oversight and monitor state spending.

“South Africa requires an anti-corruption body free from political oversight and able to combat corruption with fresh and concentrated energy. Public trust will not otherwise be re-established in the procurement system. What is required are specialised oversight and monitoring authorities which operate upon the basis that they are independent in the full and untrammelled sense, ie. that they are subject only to the constitution and the law.

“This also implies that the choice of officials who will lead and staff such bodies is not left in the discretion of government. Such appointments must be in accordance with a transparent procedure in a public process,” Zondo writes.

“In the view of the commission … the appropriate starting point for any scheme of reform must include the establishment of a single, multifunctional, properly resourced and independent anti-corruption authority with a mandate to confront the abuses inherent in the present system. That authority could be called the Anti-Corruption Authority or Agency of SA (ACASA).”

He calls for an amendment to the Political Party Funding Act.

“It is recommended that the act be amended to criminalise the making of donations to political parties in the expectation of or with a view to the grant of procurement tenders or contracts as a reward for or in the recognition of such grants having been made.”

Another recommendation is the establishing of a “national charter against corruption”.

“State capture and its exposure has dominated the national discourse in recent years. The effect has been predictable and negative: a loss of confidence both in government and political parties and in the business sector, compounded by frustration at the pervasive lack of accountability for wrongdoing.

“In the view of the commission, it is more than time to take steps to restore broken trust and the first step which needs to be taken in that direction is for all sections of society to jointly endorse a national commitment to eliminate corruption in public life and in the procurement of goods and services.

“To that end, and by way of a gesture which is both symbolic and substantive to mark the turning of the page, the commission recommends that a national charter against corruption, incorporating a standardised code of conduct, be adopted by government, the business sector and relevant stakeholders.”


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