Guest Column

Lessons of hope from Afghanistan in SA's corruption fighting journey

2018-01-09 12:07
March against corruption in Pretoria (2017)

March against corruption in Pretoria (2017) (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Wayne Duvenage

For too long, the serious issue of tackling corruption in South Africa has been all talk and no action. On numerous occasions, the Presidency has issued farcical statements to commend government’s corruption fighting efforts and yet, public sentiment and research tells us that very little meaningful action has been taken to quell South Africa’s high levels of corruption.

Interestingly, international research shows that all successful attempts to address corruption have been due to the primary hurdle of a 'political will' being present. Additionally, we are able to draw on a number of examples that demonstrate how nations have succeeded in the war against corruption.

Alongside the element of political will, with virtually all successful effort to tackle corruption, a 'change in political leadership' was required to generate the necessary energy and effort required for the fight.

Furthermore, in each case of success, corruption was highlighted as a primary issue that hampered economic growth, and the call to tackle corruption was part of the new leadership’s agenda as a national imperative, when coming into power.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent appointment at the helm of the ruling party, provides South Africa with very similar catalysts to begin our journey of tackling the deep-rooted corruption that is plaguing our nation’s ability to grow.

Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel, as there are a number of great examples of successful corruption fighting interventions around the world.

Brazil’s recent "Operation Car Wash" is well-documented and shows how their country’s leadership was successful in tackling deep-rooted state-based corruption. Similarly, the recent efforts of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are an example of a successful anti-corruption programme currently underway, one which has seen the arrest of dozens of Saudi royal figures, ministers and businessmen.

The example I reflect on briefly in this opinion piece is that of Afghanistan’s highly successful fight against rampant corruption. It is certainly one with many similarities to our situation and offers us hope, as we embark on our potential journey to remove the shackles of corruption that are holding us back as a nation.

Afghanistan’s journey to succeed in the fight against corruption

One could say that it was the efforts of a talented 25-year-old Afghan citizen, Tariq Eqtidari, who used sport and running marathons in 2012 and 2013 to spread awareness and the need for Afghanistan’s youth to challenge and speak out against corruption.

Adding to a heightened call by civil society for government to tackle the crippling scourge, was the 2013 election of a new president, Ashraf Ghani, who led the formation of a unity government alongside his competitor Abdullah Abdullah, who was appointed as Afghanistan’s Chief Executive. Both candidates ran a strong anti-corruption campaign, aimed at renewing Afghanistan’s economic development.

By 2013, corruption had largely impeded the flow of aid and investment to those most in need within Afghanistan. Their previous president, Hamid Karzai, had done little to tackle the now deep-rooted problem throughout all levels of government. The similarities to our situation in South Africa are stark. Under President Ghani’s leadership, the Afghanistan administration chose to introduce meaningful plans and mechanisms aimed at increasing accountability and transparency, so as to reduce corruption and graft.

In Afghanistan’s case, decades of conflict had severely hampered the development and maintenance of effective government institutions and the civil organisations that monitor them. Entire Afghan government institutions had become intertwined in complex patronage networks that stretched from minor officials to high-ranking ministers. Corruption was rapidly crippling the country to a point of no return and widespread poverty was setting in. Virtually all transactions with state departments, from local to national government, required corrupt transactions to take place.

In South Africa’s case, it was a well-crafted plan of state capture, involving the highest levels of leadership in the land that gave rise to our deep-rooted and systemic problem of corruption.

In 2012, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan as one of the three most corrupt countries in the world, in its annual Corruption Perception Index. By 2016, a survey conducted by The Asia Foundation concluded that nearly all Afghans regarded corruption as a problem in their country, with 61% saying corruption had become a major problem in their daily lives.

What unfolded was the decision by the new Afghanistan government to implement a number of effective initiatives to return the country to the people, as they set out to tackle corruption head on.

These initiatives included: 
• Political will from the highest levels, making the fight against corruption a national imperative. This element was seen as most critical.
• Appointment of a high-level committee to work on a National Anti-Corruption Plan, from which;
    • The creation of a High Council on Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption took place; 
    • Leading to new "oversight laws" on procurement aimed at improving access to information (we already have this in place in South Africa);
    • The establishment of the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre (ACJC) and;
    • The implementation of three dedicated corruption courts.
• Embracing the role that civil society played in mobilising the public against corruption and to hold the government accountable to its commitments.
• Seeking assistance and working with the international community to expose corruption money flows and to dismantle their networks, thereby returning money from the so called "secrecy jurisdictions".
• The prioritisation and use of an extensive system to collect asset declarations from all public officials, and applying sanctions against those who fail to submit declarations or make false declarations. In South Africa’s case, we need to simply re-energise existing laws and processes that govern this work.
• Improved controls over public financial management and the restoration of public confidence in the civil service.
• Commitment to the multilateral "Open Government Partnership", which promotes transparency, empowered citizens, and strong governance structures.
• Civil service reforms for merit-based recruitment of public officials and codes to reduce nepotism and political favouritism.

While the first 18 months or so only saw 12 cases concluded with the conviction of 33 individuals, it began to take shape over the following 18 months.

By August 2017, some 1 097 cases had been tried with 468 people sent to prison. Fines of over $14m were ordered and millions of dollars were being repatriated to the coffers of government. In one case, which involved a generator-fuel scheme, two army colonels were sent to prison for 18 and 20 years respectively and fined more than $1.5m.

The Afghan elite – politicians, businessmen and military generals – who were considered too powerful to touch, were being lined up for prosecution.

South Africa is poised and ready

The case of Afghanistan’s journey in tackling corruption has numerous similarities to South Africa’s potential journey going forward. All that remains is to see Cyril Ramaphosa’s talk of fighting corruption realised by the introduction of a full range of anti-corruption mechanisms, thereby placing various government institutions under pressure to deliver.

Without doubt, Ramaphosa’s challenge will be the "collective decision making" mechanisms that govern the ANC’s leadership processes. This may be used to oppose the possible arrest and removal of many corrupt officials and influential figures. However, any attempt to meaningfully tackle corruption cannot be discriminatory and must be seen to deal with all who are guilty. One cannot be 'half pregnant' when it comes to fighting corruption. You either do it properly, or don't.

Concerns about cadres being caught up in the web of a meaningful corruption elimination effort, can be catered for through the introduction of a 'Truth and Repatriation' process – similar to our successful 'Truth and Reconciliation' initiative at the start of our new democracy. But this is not your ordinary amnesty process. Instead, it is one that opens all the doors to expose those guilty of graft, whilst quickly holding all perpetrators to account and to repatriate their ill-gotten gains back to Treasury. It gives each and every corrupt individual one chance to get off serving jail-time, with no tolerance for half-truths or partial repatriation efforts.

Corruption in South Africa has been systematised into all levels of government over the past decade, largely under President Zuma’s leadership. We must recognise that the fight against corruption will not be won overnight. The remaking of government institutions that have been captured by corruption will take time and effort.

However, what South Africa cannot wait for, is for the new ANC leadership team to define the decisive actions and mechanisms – similar to those undertaken in Afghanistan – in setting up our own 'Anti-Corruption Initiative and Justice Centre', one that will be exposed to minimal political interference, and strong enough to grind out the corrupt within the system, no matter where they sit in the hierarchy of leadership, today and well into our future.

- Wayne Duvenage is the CEO of OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse)

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.

Read more on:    outa  |  wayne duvenage  |  corruption


Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.