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JoeSoap
 
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Corruption is not the enemy

12 March 2014, 18:30

Corruption is not the enemy but rather a symptom of the disease, a result not the disease itself. Just as treating the symptoms of an illness does nothing to cure or end the illness, so attacking corruption without attacking the illness will do nothing to end corruption.

The illness I am talking about, is inefficiency, incompetence and lack of accountability. These are the diseases that allow corruption to take root and grow. An example will amply illustrate what I am getting at.

A property developer recently told me about the trials and tribulations of dealing with the town planning department of one of South Africa’s municipalities. Applications are submitted to the town planning department. These applications do not seem to make any progress, in fact the applications simply languish in a no-man’s land. This can go on for years. There does not appear to be any procedure to hurry the process up and complaints to higher ups at the department or the municipality achieve no success whatsoever, perhaps even make things worse in the form of deliberate retaliation by the staff being complained about. All this time the developer is incurring significant holding costs on the property that has been acquired for the development in the form of interest on bank loans, ironically municipal rates and taxes and other costs such as security. There is, however, one surefire way to get the process speeded up. Any enquiry to officials in the department elicits the response that the appointment of a “consultant” may help the process. The connection between the consultant and the department or the employees in the department is never entirely revealed. Needless to say, the appointment of the consultant does the trick and after the payment of fees the process moves forward (it is not unknown for the consultant to even be a moonlighting staff member of the department).  

This process repeats itself endlessly throughout South African bureaucracy. This is the very mucous in which the germs of corruption take seed and grow. Because civil (uncivil?) servants have no accountability, no oversight management and no consequences to not doing their job efficiently and on time, the opportunity for corrupt practices arises. If there is no consequence for a civil servant failing to move an application along, the application can sit on the civil servants desk until such time as an informal incentive is applied. This is corruption.

Accordingly the only way to combat corruption effectively is to:

1.       Set standards;

2.       Monitor the adherence to the standards;

3.       Punish nonperformance; and

4.       Have an effective complaints mechanism that actually works.

There are a few points to note:

1.       Corruption exists in every society, as we all know power corrupts and absolute power ……, well you know the rest. Accordingly lofty goals to eliminate corruption are nonsense, all the more so when they form part of an election manifesto.

2.       The establishment of a civil service which is dedicated to providing an efficient service is the only way to eliminate corruption from the bureaucracy, i.e. the level of government employees below the politicians, our elected representatives.

3.       In some countries corruption is so endemic that the amount of the bribe required to get a service from the civil servants is common knowledge. In some countries corruption at the civil servant level is virtually unknown. South Africa falls in between and we need to constantly be pushing towards the uncorrupt side of the scale.

4.       Eliminating corruption amongst politicians is an entirely different matter. My current thoughts are that democracy inherently involves corrupt politicians. This, however, is a topic for an entirely different article.

A final thought on this matter. With cadre deployment and jobs for pals, the ANC has no incentive to enforce efficiency, competence and accountability. After all, if you have appointed people to positions because they are your friends as opposed to the requirements of the job, you can hardly fire them for not doing a job they are not qualified for (especially if you are in the same boat). I do not live in the Cape so I have no idea if the same applies for the DA, but I would suspect it does, at least to some extent.

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