Opposition Members of Parliament in the National Assembly. Photo: Leratu Maduna
In just one day, South Africans who have registered to vote
will be making their way to their local polling stations, ready to have their
say in who leads the country for the next five years. The track record of
corruption in the governments we have elected so far is undeniably problematic,
so commitment to rooting out corruption will definitely be a focal point for
voters this time around.
Corruption Watch has highlighted certain anti-corruption
commitments that all political parties should ideally be making in their
manifestos. These indicators relate to key problem areas that need to be
addressed in order to restore good governance, accountability and trust in
government. They show how well the manifestos of the current top 10 parties in
government recognise, understand and seek to tackle corruption.
What we want from our
Political parties should, first and foremost, be aware that
corruption infiltrates all levels of government, from local to national. Though
national corruption is often at the fore, tender corruption is rife within
municipalities, and provincial governments play a role in managing healthcare
and education, which are hugely vulnerable to corruption. It is also essential
that manifestos recognise that corruption takes place across all sectors of
society, including the private sector. Recognition of all these vulnerable
areas will give parties a broad view of where corruption needs to be addressed.
The initial requirement from political parties is that they
have a standard to which they hold themselves, which includes ethical
practices, a firm stance on anti-corruption, and commitment to integrity. These
standards can then be implemented when selecting leaders of key institutions,
and they can be used to hold these leaders accountable.
Equally important in fighting corruption in government is
the ability to keep a firm grip on finances, to accurately track how the
millions and billions of rand move. In addition, previous administrations have arguably
not established the willpower and capacity to make sure that those who do act
unlawfully are held responsible for their wrongdoing. And our diving economy,
desperate for resources, could certainly benefit from a commitment to
recovering assets and money illicitly accumulated.
For effective consequence management to take place, parties
need to commit to ensuring that our anti-corruption institutions are
sufficiently strong to deliver on holding government accountable. Those
reporting to anti-corruption institutions need to feel safe and supported when
they are making disclosures.
Perhaps one of the hottest election topics of 2018 was the
Political Party Funding Bill, which has now been signed into law by the president,
although he has yet to announce a date of enforcement. This means that the act
will unfortunately lend no insight into the funding of political parties
contesting the 2019 elections.
However, now that political parties are aware of the legal
obligation to disclose certain donations, the transparency of the parties
themselves should be a key concern for voters. No party has expressed any
intention to comply with this new law, not even the EFF who in their manifesto
already seek to improve the law to prevent corporate influence in politics.
People need real
ability to hold leaders accountable
Aside from these indicators, other interesting
anti-corruption ideas populate the various manifestos. Perhaps most striking is
the call for a change to the electoral system itself. Several political parties
recognise that the current system does not allow citizens to directly elect
their president, as the party deploys its leader.
The DA manifesto calls for direct elections for all
political offices, whilst that of the AIC would like an electoral system that
is centred on people instead of parties. Cope, too, calls for a system that
allows individuals to stand for national and provincial elections. Its
manifesto also calls for constituency-based representation, and the UDM calls
for a hybrid of both constituency-based representation and proportional
representation. The EFF calls for municipal elections to be held at the same
time as national elections. Changes to the electoral system are suggested as a
means to enhance accountability of individual leaders to the public instead of
to their parties.
A further assertion from several parties is that the state
needs to change the way it conducts business. Many parties have alluded to the
fact that this space is vulnerable to corruption, owing to the lucrative nature
of the state contracts. The EFF suggests that to prevent corruption in this
area, the use of consultants and project management units should be banned.
Internal capacity should be built within government, removing the need to use
private companies to fulfil the needs of government. The ANC and EFF both
suggest that public officials and representatives should not be permitted to
engage in business dealings with government institutions. The NFP also iterates
this point, and the AIC suggests that a public works programme should exist to
tend to government necessities.
Civil society's role
not recognised by all
An area in which only two of the political parties have
encouraged engagement with the state is civil society. The NFP and Cope both
recognise the role of civil society as watchdogs over government, and their
potential for collaboration in terms of coming up with solutions to ensuring
accountability. Cope suggests that a Cope government will empower and support
NGOs and civil society to carry out this task.
Another mechanism which may create watchdogs would be for
government to create spaces for public engagement with their leaders. Increased
access to government would allow citizens themselves to easily question their
leaders on commitments that have been made. The only party that has committed
to improving how communities can engage with the government is the ANC, who
have said they will do so through imbizos and innovative use of information
technology. It is often a mammoth task for communities, especially those who
are rural and disadvantaged, to meet with their leadership, and for the
government to take on the responsibility is a welcome idea.
Perhaps worryingly, certain parties have highlighted
immigration as linked to corruption, though in different ways. The DA's
approach is that corruption is causing high levels of undocumented people in
South Africa, and that asylum seekers are often exploited within the improperly
administrated Home Affairs department. The FF+ phrases the sentiment slightly
differently, saying that corruption is a factor in the large number of illegal
immigrants in South Africa, who do not have anything to offer our country.
The AIC, too, takes quite a negative stance, saying the
corruption must be rooted out at our borders, through methods including
increased policing and repatriation of undocumented persons. Both the AIC and
FF+ seem to react negatively not to the corruption in immigration, but to the
undocumented persons themselves, a dangerously xenophobic view.
The FF+ also reacts negatively towards land reform, which is
something that the new government will have to preside over. They dismiss it as
an issue that the government should be wary of participating in, as it is a
breeding ground for corruption.
Building a societal
culture of anti-corruption
What is true of all these views, however problematic, is
that anti-corruption commitments implemented by parties in government will
ultimately influence society. It is therefore important for government to
recognise society at large as stakeholders in the fight against corruption.
Several parties mention the importance of building a culture of anti-corruption
and integrity in society. The ANC manifesto speaks of a "social compact"
which will encourage people to speak out against corruption.
The UDM recognises the importance of the "moral compass"
of the nation. The ACDP manifesto states that, "Integrity is the internal
compass we must all carry," while the AIC manifesto calls for rights
education for members of the public. The Cope manifesto commits to a
transformation of South Africa, which requires everyone to commit to personal
integrity, trustworthiness and honesty.
Despite all the commitments to anti-corruption, very few
give us an idea of exactly how they will achieve certain promises. But is that
not the consistent problem with political party manifestos? Most have grand
ideas of how to solve corruption, but not many have clear strategies for
implementing their goals. The DA is a slight exception, mentioning tactics such
as entrance exams for public servants, and introducing an offence for revealing
the identity of a whistleblower. But they too use phrases such as "decisive
action" which has yet to translate into anything meaningful.
The only way to find out what this means is to make our mark
at the polls, for the party that we consider best capacitated to eliminate the
scourge of corruption that plagues our country. Voting lends us legitimacy with
which to demand accountability from our leaders.
Be sure that the journey to a more open and trusted
government will not end on 8 May. It depends on the will of the people to
follow through and ensure that whichever political parties occupy Parliament
and legislature are held to the promises they made in their manifestos.
- Sabeehah Motala is a project coordinator at Corruption Watch.
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