Ralph Mathekga

Where is our moral indignation about corruption?

2017-03-27 08:46

South Africa’s anti-corruption legal framework seems to be stepping up to the task of dealing with the resilient phenomenon of graft. Likewise, the media are also playing its role by relentlessly reporting on transactions that need to be looked into to determine if all is above board when it comes to how public funds are used.

In the private sector the work being done by the competition commission further boosts the ongoing fight against corruption. Going after practices such as price fixing and other anti-competitive behaviour by private companies, the competition commission is building a reputation as an effective corruption busting body. The commission, for example, recently sanctioned banks for uncompetitive attitudes.

These institutions, however, cannot win the fight alone. In order to ensure that corruption is completely uprooted from our society, citizens need to take a moral stance that will boost the anti-corruption legal framework we have in place. Currently, we lack the moral indignation about corruption to support our anti-corruption instruments.

The laws of any country are only as effective as the value system shown by the society towards conducts that are regulated by the legal system. If the legal system sees a particular conduct as unacceptable and worthy of punishment, then the society should also demonstrate a moral judgment towards that conduct. Yet, in our society, we tend to take a strong position against corruption only when we are confronted with its consequences, and not because we take a moral exception to instances of corruption.

For example, people would get concerned about allegations of corruption involving a waste removal company only when confronted with the stinking garbage that has not been removed.

It is only when corruption directly affects our daily order that we suddenly feel compelled to take a stance as we are confronted with the inconvenience that comes from the corrupt conduct. This lukewarm anti-corruption attitude is not sufficient to repel corruption from society; it is only effective in managing the inconvenience thereof and will not deter future incidents.

When people take a moral stance against corruption, it says to those who are corrupt that they will not be given a hideout within society. This is when society refuses to give a platform to those with ill-gotten goods, even before the courts can make a pronouncement as to whether one is guilty or not.

This is not to say that those who are alleged to be corrupt should be judged before the courts make their findings. It is rather to say that allegations of corruption should not propel anyone to political or social stardom. Facing allegations of corruption or being known to flaunt ill-gotten goods should not be a voucher to infiltrate society and subsequently gain prominence.

Where society takes a strong moral position against corruption those who are responsible for implementing anti-corruption laws will also have no room to manipulate the system, and will have to implement the law openly and fairly.

This is a means for society to take a strong moral position against those who might use anti-corruption laws to dislodge their political opponents; when all cases of corruption are seen and treated as contact crime because such conducts come into direct contact with the moral foundations of the society. Corruption is therefore seen not only as an inconvenience, but an offensive phenomenon, repulsive to the moral basis of society.  

If society regrounds itself against corruption in this manner, the legal system will have to follow suit and be implemented accordingly. If we continue to see corruption as merely an inconvenience, an irritant on the order of life, then it will be with us for a long time. In that way, we will only manage the impacts of corruption without necessarily uprooting it.

If that is the case, we might as well calculate in the cost of corruption when we do business, if we are not already doing that. 

- Ralph Mathekga is an independent political analyst and author of the book When Zuma Goes. He writes a weekly column for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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