Patricia de Lille writes she has inherited a rotten department after allegations of corruption were levelled against her by suspended director-general Sam Vukela.
There is one word that keeps popping up in every two or three sentences during breakfast, lunch and dinner conversations, as well as on media and radio talk shows: Corruption.
These days, the Rainbow Nation and corruption, it would seem, are like Siamese twins joined at the head, the belly, the hip and the ankle.
Unfortunately, my department is right at the centre of these discussions thanks to the media coverage. I say thanks because these accusations are levelled against me instead of the corruptors and corruptees.
Before dealing with what is going on in my own department and what I am doing about it, let me explain why I am not going to raise my arms in surrender and declare that corruption is part of our way of life and I can't do anything about it.
I abhor the sordid effects of corruption. Why? Because corruption steals from the poor, it stifles and decreases economic growth. Corruption is a social malady whose ramifications radiate from the highest echelons of power, down to the smallest household.
Stealing public wealth
Endemic corruption, whether it's bribery, extortion, nepotism or fraud, amounts to the stealing of public wealth.
Numerous studies have confirmed corruption disturbs the allocation of social resources by taking them away from the people and towards the powerful and politically well-connected. Bribery and graft fosters inefficiencies within the public sector.
Indeed, numerous studies have shown that over and above financial and economic losses, corruption weakens states, threatens development, and undermines the rule of law. It is a social cancer and major hindrance to development.
While corruption is well-recognised as a serious impediment to growth and human development and there have been earnest efforts to address it at one time or another, this spectre continues to proliferate.
Our fight against corruption is the moral challenge of our time. If we are to liberate our economy and people, we must liberate ourselves from the shackles of the culture of corruption.
Of course, we have good laws to curb corruption.
We have anti-corruption institutions like the Special Investigative Unit, National Prosecution Authority, Public Protector, Auditor-General's office and ongoing commissions and investigations. And yet the spectre of corruption continues to proliferate. Its pervasiveness is, perhaps, its most lethal quality.
As a country, we spend a lot of our resources after the event to find out what happened and what went wrong, like commissions, when we should be using the same resources to invest in systems that can prevent and detect corruption.
I am not surprised that President Cyril Ramaphosa himself is almost exasperated by the ongoing corruption. We should all be grateful that the president has not lacked determination as demonstrated by his quick and fast response to signs of corruption.
Should the president and nation take heart that corruption is not a new problem that can be solved overnight? Should we relax because this corruption is a malaise that has existed in all administrations?
Corruption tends to grow a new head and presents a new face just as soon as solutions are found. Solutions, too, do not have immediate effects; they labour under a built-in time lag.
My department is testimony that corruption grows a new head and presents a new face at all times.
I inherited the legacy of the misappropriation of funds related to state funerals of struggle heroes; irregular appointments of senior officials - including people without the relevant qualifications; the Nkandla matter as well as allegations of corruption related to government leases, and many more.
There are now accusations against me from suspended director-general Sam Vukela who is facing disciplinary action following a damning investigative report over millions of rand in irregular, fruitless and unauthorised expenditures.
Then out of the woodwork came former deputy director-general Dhaya Govender's complaint to the Public Protector that I gave him unlawful instructions.
I was not surprised when the Public Service Commission (PSC) and Auditor-General (AG) wrote me this month, inquiring about whether there had been consequence management instituted against officials emanating from irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure during 2018 under the same DG now facing disciplinary action.
Both the PSC and AG want me to make a submission on the circumstances that led to the material irregularity, the steps that have been taken to recover the financial losses and the steps that have been or will be taken against individuals responsible for material irregularities.
The above examples confirm the rotten department that I have inherited - which has been a looter's paradise for some time.
To use a football parlance, instead of being bold enough to make a stand and do battle for our beliefs and curb corruption, Vukela, Govender and the DA are "playing the man, not the ball".
I thought they would be mature enough not to resort to personal attacks and instead embark on dialogues to fight against corruption.
Let's make no bones about it. Corruption is an evil social and economic disease which must be rooted out wherever it resides; but let us not forget that while the corrupted is damned, the corrupter is doubly damned. Both should be criminalised.
I urge those who have evidence of corruption against me to bring it on.
How can the corrupter, be damned and criminalised? For an answer, I always visit The Corruption Triangle developed by Donald Cressey, an American sociologist-criminologist.
Cressey has always emphasised that for corruption to transpire, there must be a congruence of three indispensable elements: motivation, opportunity, and rationalisation.
Unpacking the triangle, he said, motivation was the actual or perceived need of the perpetrator, be it a grandiose need for wealth, power or influence.
Rationalisation is the process of justification: that one can get away with; everyone does it anyways; or as base as survival versus death. Opportunity is the set of circumstances that allows the corruptor and corruptee to do so.
This triangle teaches us that only one of the three elements needs thwarting to break the triangle and prevent corruption.
In the public sector, internal controls translate to the systems of separation of powers and checks and balances that the Constitution and law have laid down for democratic and effective governance.
It is a pity that expedient and patronage politics foment corruption even more, especially where boundaries of power are allowed to blur, institutions overstep into each other's legal domains, and the independence of oversight bodies are subverted or otherwise compromised.
That is why I have implemented contract and consequence management and put systems in place to detect and prevent corruption to ensure accountability and to clean up the department. They call these steps interference. I call them interventions.
Getting rid of corruption is a shared responsibility not just of the people in government, including ministers, but also every member of society because it affects us all.
The people should likewise be conscious that their own acts are crucial in ensuring that corrupt behaviour is not reinforced. Speak up and speak out. Be vigilant and act against corruption.
- Patricia de Lille is minister of public works and infrastructure.
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