Corruption has two sides: a giver and a taker

2011-06-25 11:35

If bribes were paid in the arms deal, who is more guilty? The briber, the bribed or both?

‘When German companies trade abroad, they don’t lose their sense of values. They take the values with them.”

What values? I wanted to ask Markus Löning, Germany’s commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, as he addressed a plenary on big corporates and human rights at a conference in Bonn this week.

I was obviously thinking of the South African arms deal and years of investigations by authorities in both countries into allegations that bribes worth millions of rands changed hands to secure the corvette and submarine deals with German multinationals ThyssenKrupp and Ferrostaal.

Twelve years after the R70 billion arms deal was signed, no German executive, South African politician or middleman has been prosecuted and jailed for what seems to have been a clear case of corruption in the corvette and submarine deals.

Before I could ask my question, Löning was jeered by a large section of the audience after saying African journalists should pose the hard questions on foreign corruption to their leaders rather than to Europe’s captains of industry.

It’s an ancient debate, but one that still rears its ugly head when developing and industrialised nations debate: Is poverty and rampant corruption in Africa the fault of the capitalists in the West, or should African leadership take the blame for accepting “schmiergeld” (bribes) from white men in suits?

Of course each party is as guilty as the other.

The man from Europe with his dirty cash couldn’t do without the skelm African leader to pay the bribe and get the deal. And vice versa.

The middle is littered with a litany of fixers who do the real greasy work – opening the bank accounts in Liberia or the Cayman Islands, carrying the bags of cash, buying the houses in the south of France . . .

For any meaningful debate to be had on foreign corruption in Africa, both sides have to admit their complicity in using money – that should be spent on housing, water and education – to buy Mercedeses or sponsor luxury island holidays and election campaigns.

Of course Löning is right when he says Africans should take responsibility for the conduct of their leaders.

We do that, and the citizens of Egypt and Tunisia have shown to what extent they will go to unseat corrupt leaders.But the journalist from Liberia is just as right when he asked Löning what Germany and the European Union were doing to act against Shell, the Dutch multinational whose practices in the Niger Delta wouldn’t pass any reasonable test of “European values”.

The South African arms deal was a lesson in how difficult it is to investigate and prosecute the corruptor and corruptee, particularly when neither countries have the political will to name and shame their wealthy and powerful.

Unlike any other crime, corruption has no direct, visible victim and for that reason is massively under-reported.

The tale of how the South African leg of the arms deal investigation – under the leadership of three successive ANC presidents – was thwarted, is well documented.

The fact that no serious probe was ever conducted into the actions of former president Thabo Mbeki (who brought in the Germans after a fruitful meeting with the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl); Chippy Shaik (the main driver of the deal, who allegedly received $3 million); and Fana Hlongwane (adviser to former defence minister Joe Modise and successful bidders BAE/Saab at the same time) tells a sorry tale.

But what about the German leg?

What happened to the investigation by the prosecutors in Düsseldorf after they raided the offices of ThyssenKrupp and Ferrostaal, and reportedly discovered many incriminating documents?

If those can’t be used in Germany – a country where paying “commissions” to foreigners wasn’t an offence before 1999 – why isn’t General Anwa Dramat begging that they be shared with the Hawks?

Before fingers are pointed at Africa by the likes of Löning, both the West and Africa should confess to being complicit in poisoning the well from which citizens – millions of them poor and unemployed – drink.

Only then can we engage in a meaningful discussion about a cure for this cancer that eats into the moral fabric of everyone involved.

» Basson is assistant editor at City Press and attended the Global Media Forum in Bonn as a guest of Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster 

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