His Excellency, President of the Republic of South Africa,
Honourable Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces,
Honourable Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly,
Honourable Chief Justice,
Honourable Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development,
Members of the Executive
Chairperson and Commissioners of the Public Service Commission
Heads of Chapter 9 institutions present
Ladies and gentlemen,
People of South Africa,
It is an honour to address you, on behalf of the United Nations system in South Africa, on this important day.
We are here, at this crucial moment, to raise one voice against corruption, and to support South Africa’s dreams toward a prosperous state.
Your excellency, ladies and gentlemen, corruption undermines development, security and the rights of every citizen. It erodes public trust in systems and institutions. It takes away resources urgently needed for public investment. It enables crime, contributes to instability, and feeds fear and frustrations. When corruption thrives, things indeed fall apart. Renowned African poet, Ben Okri, says “Corruption bothers me more than the threat of a civil war because it eats away slowly at the fabric of the nation, at its consciousness and spirit, turning it into a diseased organism. Corruption is death by 10,000 cuts”
Corruption causes and fuels much of the world’s ills. Tackling corruption head on helps us meet some of the greatest developmental challenges of our time and spark change towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, and ensuring that no one is left behind.
Preventing and combating corruption strengthens democracy and the rule of law. It promotes social and economic development. It helps protect South Africa’s vast natural and cultural wealth. It is conducive to job creation, helps achieve gender equality, and secures wider access to essential services such as healthcare and education. Simply put, action against corruption helps protect every person’s right to justice and opportunity, to public services, and to a sustainable future.
Like so many other countries, South Africa has found its potential and prosperity undercut and held back by corruption. This in turn has significant and wide-ranging impact on people’s daily lives.
The Government of South Africa has recognized and taken crucial steps to combat corruption. Once and still a beacon of hope and a model of good governance in the South, South Africa cannot falter.
The Government has opened itself up through the various commissions of inquiry instituted in the past few years to uncover the scale of corruption in public institutions. This is the action of a government committed to understanding the roots, manifestations and practice of corruption within its institutions. This bodes well for on-going national efforts of addressing the challenge of corruption.
The participation of South African state institutions here today AND at the highest level is yet another sign of the commitment and importance South Africa attaches to the fight against corruption, and the pledge that is about to be signed is a symbol of that commitment.
Your excellency, ladies and gentlemen – the answers to address the problem of corruption starts from the top – the highest levels of state leadership, and cascades down to institutions, businesses, communities and individuals. The fight against corruption is everyone’s responsibility.
At the top - government must show resolute political will, and take the steps needed to fight corruption and mobilize the necessary resources. State institutions should be at the forefront of this fight: law enforcement agencies, oversight bodies, and the judiciary need to act as champions for change, demonstrate resilience to corruption and abuse of power, and act upon the principles of integrity, transparency and accountability.
Parliament must uphold its central responsibility in establishing robust legislation, to deter corruption and empower those who bring the corrupt to justice.
Beyond governments, other stakeholders have a key role and responsibility in preserving integrity.
Business has an integral role to play in preventing corruption in the private and public sectors, by helping to protect supply chains and committing to fair competition.
Civil society’s watchdog role will help promote public sector accountability and service delivery. CSOs are key in enhancing awareness and transparency, and ensuring that the public has an effective access to information.
The media – who have exposed much of the corruption - bears the responsibility of informing the public and demonstrating integrity in their own coverage.
Academia provides us with data and knowledge and helps prepare the new generation to become champions of every-day resilience and integrity.
But the heart of our responses, and the key to their success, are people.
People of South Africa are South Africa’s most precious resource.
Young people have the most to lose. But they are the very people who have to find transformative solutions to corruption, and to hold leaders to account. We must create opportunities to enable the youth to fulfil their role as the future guardians of integrity.
Women are affected disproportionately by corruption. Women must be included in shaping the anti-corruption responses.
I would like to take this opportunity to salute the men and women who are whistleblowers of corruption in South Africa. These are courageous individuals who have made personal sacrifices. Many have lost their livelihoods or continue to suffer from the trauma of victimization. On behalf of the United Nations family in South Africa, I wish to express our heartfelt sympathy to the heroes and heroines who have paid the ultimate price in their selfless acts of speaking up against corruption. Whistle-blowers deserve recognition and appreciation – not rejection or reprisal.
The United Nations acknowledges that a well-designed whistleblowing system will encourage officials across all sectors and the general public to expose corrupt practices. Key to such a system is the effective protection measures embedded not only in legislation but also in the institutional practices.
We need to look to new and ambitious ways that go beyond business as usual. People want to see practical steps being taken.
We need to understand and address the underlying causes of corruption.
We need to prioritize prevention and be proactive in identifying and addressing risks of corruption.
We must leverage the power of technology and innovation to boost anti-corruption efforts.
To truly overcome corruption, we need to promote a fundamental change in mindsets. The mindset where one rejects acts of corruption by default at every level, regardless of who commits the act and the size of that act. It must become part of everyone’s DNA.
People must believe that every act of corruption, every small bribe, undermines the rule of law and their own future.
We must send a positive message to the people we serve, though our words and actions. In exercising firm leadership and giving hope, we must borrow from the wise words of Harold S Green, who says “Leadership is practised not so much in words as in attitude and in actions”.When we gather here again next year, we must report back on the progress we have all made.
Your excellency, ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to reiterate the UN commitment and our support to assist the State (Parliament, the Judiciary, and the Executive) to implement the recommendations of the Report into Allegations of State Capture.
This is a reason to celebrate. We have come a long way from corruption being a tabu that was barely discussed, to it being at the forefront of global efforts.
As part of the UN Strategic Cooperation Framework that we signed in April this year with the Government of South Africa, we commit to work in close cooperation with both the state and non-state agencies with responsibility for monitoring and oversight, investigations, law enforcement, prosecutions, and strengthening existing (and where necessary review and change) procurement and financial management systems to promote and preserve the integrity of the public service.
We commit to keep people at the centre of our collective efforts. We have promised to leave no one behind. We must accept that the people themselves oftentimes have better solutions than us, as they know the triggers and sources of corruption.
The UN commits itself to work hand in hand, side by side, to provide support in this sometimes thankless job, Mr President.
In concluding, I would like to remind us about the reason we celebrate the International Anti-Corruption Day. The United Nations Convention against Corruption, the only global legally-binding anti-corruption instrument, was adopted on 9 December 2003. The Convention will therefore celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.
In closing, I would like to remind the audience here and joining virtually the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing. Future generations will judge us by our actions and the difference we make to fight this pandemic called corruption.