The International Anti-Corruption Day, 9 December 2020

Corruption is a global problem and happens in both developed and underdeveloped countries, its effect far more devastating on developing countries

Programme Director, Prof. Fikeni

H.E. Honourable Senzo Mchunu, Minister for Public Service and Administration,

Professor Makhanya, Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa,

Advocate Richard Sizani, Chairperson of the Public Service Commission

Advocate Shamila Batohi, National Director of Public Prosecutions,

Lieutenant General Lebeya, from the Hawks

Ms Joanne Yawitch, CEO of National Business Initiative,

Representatives of the diplomatic corps,

Speakers and delegates from the other law enforcement agencies,

Delegates from other organs of the state and civil society,

Officials from the UN, the Public Service Commission and UNISA,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we mark International Anti-corruption Day. This is part of the global movement against one of the greatest crimes to human development. Corruption is a global problem and happens in both developed and underdeveloped countries. Its effects are however, far more devastating on developing countries. For instance, corruption takes away resources meant to provide basic services to the people and take them out of poverty. It robs societies of schools, hospitals and other vital services, while also undermining the rule of law, abetting crimes and undermining trust in democratic institutions that are essential to development. Moreover, it destabilises peace and security, especially in developing countries.

Given that corruption is one of the biggest impediments to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this day provides an opportunity for political leaders, governments, business, civil society, legal bodies and lobby groups to join forces against corruption.

Instances of corruption have been noted in many countries even during the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating that we recover with integrity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. The SDGs make an explicit link between corruption and peaceful, just and inclusive societies. SDG 16 and its targets on reducing bribery, strengthening institutions and accessing information, for instance, are not only valuable aspirations in their own right, but are also vital conditions for the achievement of all the 17 goals.

The world continues to struggle with the economic, political and social fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such it is imperative that we “Recover better with Integrity” through continued efforts towards the broad goal of building strong institutions for more sustainable development.

In its efforts to reflect the devastating effects of corruption, how it hampers growth and innovation and increases social inequality, in 2019 the World Economic Forum reported that corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion, and other illicit financial flows cost developing countries $1.26 trillion per year. That is roughly the combined size of the economies of Switzerland, South Africa and Belgium, and enough money to lift the 1.4 billion people who get by on less than $1.25 a day above the poverty threshold and keep them there for at least six years.

In the South African context, there have been growing numbers of reports of corruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The perpetrators of this corruption have been unashamedly brazen in their hijacking of the emergency measures put into place to deal with COVID-19. Such measures included, among others, a R500-billion (US$30 billion) relief package to provide for food parcels for the needy, a temporary social grant increase for over 16 million beneficiaries and the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) for those whose salaries were affected. To implement these and other measures, the government also put in place emergency procurement regulations. All of these have proved irresistible to those with thieving tendencies.

When one considers the enormous development challenges facing townships and rural areas, any diversion of funds away from public expenditure is surely taking away the livelihoods and lives from the poor. Such corruption undermines all efforts to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment, and robs people of safety, health, infrastructure and a better quality of life.

Government is aware that there has been irregularities around the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE’s) and is determined that those who have broken the law or flouted regulations are held to account. President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed a proclamation authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate any unlawful or improper conduct relating to the misuse of COVID-19 funds across all spheres of the state.

Ladies and Gentlemen, on this day it is perhaps useful to take stock of South Africa’s performance and ranking on how it is fighting corruption and ensuring access to justice for all, and to the poorest of the poor.South Africa scored 44 points out of 100 on the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, showing a slight improvement from the 2018 score of 43 out of 100. This rating confirms that the country still has a long way to go in its concerted efforts to deal decisively with corruption.

Consistent with the above, the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Africa found that 64% of South African respondents think corruption increased in the previous 12 months and in 2019, the following percentage of respondents believed that most or all people in the respective institutions are corrupt: 49% of respondents believed that most or all police are corrupt; 45% of respondents believed that most or all government officials are corrupt and 38% of respondents believed that most or all local government officials are corrupt. We need to create a society where citizens are able to receive critical public services without paying bribes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These are the perceptions harbored by South Africans on their most critical national institutions which are responsible for maintaining an environment of safety and security and leading the fight against corruption in the country. We must address these perceptions.

Following a decision taken by Cabinet at its meeting on 5 August 2020, President Ramaphosa appointed a Committee of Ministers to deal with allegations of corruption associated with the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Chaired by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Hon. Ronald Lamola, the committee will look into corruption in the procurement of goods and services sourced for the purpose of containing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the procurement of personal protective equipment.

To assist the committee in its assessment of COVID-19-related procurement, President Ramaphosa has requested all Ministers and Premiers to provide information on the names of companies and details of tenders and contracts that have been awarded in national departments, provincial governments and public entities during the period of the National State of Disaster.

The President has directed that these lists must be provided to the Committee of Ministers as a matter of urgency. The Committee will prepare a comprehensive report which the President intends to release as public information.

There are other ongoing noteworthy efforts made by government to address the problem of corruption. These include:

  • The launch of a public enquiry by the President, to investigate allegations of State Capture, Corruption, Fraud and other allegations in the Public Sector including Organs of State.
  • The establishment of the Investigating Directorate in the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions headed by Hermione Cronje which deals with serious, complex and high-level corruption, including allegations emerging from the Zondo, Nugent and Mpati commissions of inquiry.
  • The establishment of a centre to strengthen efforts among law enforcement agencies so as to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-related corruption as announced by the President on 23 July 2020.
  • The approval by Cabinet, of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), an intervention mechanism that seeks to strengthen the fight against corruption.

We commend the President’s commitment, and as the UN we stand ready to provide support to ensure that all these efforts bear fruits.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I conclude I must reiterate that while perceptions of the extent of corruption vary considerably across the continent and the world at large, many citizens see corruption as increasing, governments doing too little to address the problem, and bribery being far too common an occurrence in their countries. This calls for a need to recover with integrity by working together in the fight against corruption.

We need to acknowledge and recognize that corruption comes in different forms. It might impact service delivery, it might unfairly determine the winners of government contracts, with awards favouring friends, relatives, or business associates of government officials. Or it might come in the form of state capture, distorting how institutions work and who controls them, a form of corruption that is often the costliest in terms of overall economic impact. Each type of corruption is damaging and tackling all of them is critical to achieving progress and sustainable change. Against this background, I encourage that all forms of corruption, whether big or small, be viewed with great disdain and that we should all say ‘NO’ to corruption.

Finally, I would like to propose to the Minister, the Public Service Commission and other state institutions leading this work, additional potential areas of collaboration with the United Nations in South Africa.

The first area comprises of the recognition that the fight against corruption requires determined efforts to overcome vested interests. Therefore, we need to work on employing the efforts of a knowledgeable, involved and active citizenry. Secondly and equally important, is the need to leverage innovative technologies to strengthen public sector performance and productivity, confront corruption and to help foster greater trust and accountability, particularly in more fragile environments. Citizens deserve corruption-free countries. Leaders on the continent and worldwide should act with urgency, commitment and integrity.

As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General, Angel Gurría has said in line with fighting corruption “Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be taught as fundamental values.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year the United Nations once gain calls for the Global action to address corruption and we must work together, UNITED.

Speech by
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
Resident Coordinator
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime