Zama Ndlovu

Corruption threatens my liberties

2012-07-25 08:15

Zama Ndlovu

I have never been bitter about the amount of tax I pay as a citizen. Being such a small section of our society, belonging to the taxpayers club is a coveted position, I never take my fortune for granted.

However, after reading some "highlights" from the auditor general's report on local government, I can't help but feel as though my tax contributions are being poured into a bottomless pit of gluttony and greed, despite being presented on a daily basis with evidence of the importance of that contribution.

Thirteen municipalities of 343 spread across four provinces received a clean audit, and not a single metropolis (including City of Cape Town) received a clean audit for the 2010/2011 period. Lack of financial controls has been cited as one of the main impediment, with many officials deemed insufficiently competent. Topping the list of risks was the noticeable issue was supply chain management and service delivery reporting.

The Auditor-General, Terence Nombembe, said that “the slow progress towards clean audits in local government is underpinned by three prominent causes, which includes a lack of consequences for poor performance and transgressions at more than 70% of auditees”.

Rewarding bad behaviour

I’m stuck. I’m at the corner of stupefied and angry street, knowing that neither road will take us to more productive pastures in this country.

The consequences of tax evasion in South Africa are swift and severe. The consequences of corruption and maladministration are not. The current system demands our tax money timeously and consistently with such incredibly efficiency that one is tempted to be proud. Yet that money lands in the pockets of the genetically and socially connected, while national governments pretends to have its hands tied behind its back.

Public systems reward bad behaviour through the visible lack of consequences especially at the highest levels of government. When civil society does manage to exert enough pressure, officials are often reshuffled, rarely suspended, rarely fired.

I’m tired of being shocked, angry, saddened. I have no more left of that in me. I hear the choruses of “do something”, in fact I’m often the choirmaster, but I don’t know what that “something” is. While we ponder on that something we can do immediately to stem the tide, a dark cloud gathers above us.
Gross inequalities

Our contributions are being eroded, rarely reaching those who need them the most. Corruption is extending the gross inequalities, with reports that South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.

But beyond taxes, corruption erodes democracy. It creates deeper class divisions as individuals compare their lot against that of others, while managing to tip-toe around the issue of dealing with the government directly.

Meanwhile, demagogue leaders exploit the situation by blaming richer classes for the economic disparities while conveniently neglecting to mention their contribution towards the waning state of affairs. Those stuck in abject poverty are more prone to associating the failure of government with the failure of the political system. The democracy that is meant to bring free houses, free education, free basic services is failing, not the transient government in place.

Dejected and defeated

I remember how hopeful we were as young children in our racially inclusive English medium school (the irony is not lost on me). Our teachers promised that South Africa would follow a different path to the African nations that had gained independence before it since we’d had the providence of learning through observation rather than experience. How naïve they were, how arrogant we’ve all been.

I’m a dejected and defeated citizen without a single solution to this aggressive cancer that eats away at my liberties. I am angry at the incompetence at local government, yet fearful of the prospect of national government encroaching and recentralising power. It’s far too soon to be crying for the beloved country again.

- Zama Ndlovu is a management consultant, managing director of Youth Lab, writer, activist, and anything else you'd like her to be. Follow her on Twitter: @JoziGoddess

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