ANC not alone in corruption, lack of accountability

NPA boss Shamila Batohi.
NPA boss Shamila Batohi.

Poor people, many of whom were contributors to the liberation struggle, have been relegated to being powerless observers of massive heists of public resources. This must end, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

The excellent job being done by commissions of inquiry into corruption and state capture needs to be complemented by robust strategic interventions to promote a culture of accountability in our society. Accountability is essential to driving President Ramaphosa's "new dawn" and consolidating our democracy.

At the heart of the impunity with which public resources were, and in some cases continue to be plundered and abused for personal gain, is the use of public office for personal gain, without any fear of consequences. Such gain includes advancing party political interests. A key enabler of this culture is the conflation of the "ruling party", the government and the state in the minds of many in our society, including the media. The ANC is not the only party guilty of this abuse.

Many citizens have largely acquiesced to this culture of unaccountability because they do not feel that they have a right or the power to challenge it. Many people point to the fear that those who stand in the way of corrupt officials would be dealt with. Evidence at some of the ongoing inquiries suggests that threats of violence to protect corruption have in some cases led to disappearances and/or murders. 

Jacob Zuma's admission at the Zondo commission that he takes responsibility for initiating the establishment of The New Age newspaper and ANN7 TV station, shows how little regard he has for accountability for setting up parallel structures to promote ANC interests. These media entities syphoned huge amounts of money from the SABC and the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). The irony of a sitting president promoting competing private entities at public expense seems to have escaped Mr Zuma.

The attitude displayed by public officials, such as Lebogang Maile, Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements, at the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into the Alexander Renewal Program dating back to 2000, reflects this unaccountable behaviour. Even the Attorney General's team could not get hold of documents on the expenditure of the R1.3bn set aside for the renewal program intended to address the horrific living conditions of the people of Alexander. They continue to live in humiliating circumstances.

The same attitudes drove the hollowing out of other state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, Denel, SAA and the PIC. The common thread seems to be that some key individuals connected to the ANC believe that they are entitled to special treatment because "they liberated us".  They refuse to accept the historic facts that ours was a liberation struggle to which many inside and outside the country contributed to, including paying the ultimate price, across party political lines. 

The collapse of municipal services, public infrastructure, and land reform projects, including the infamous Estina Vrede dairy farm in the Free State, all bear witness to the idea that "the ANC is bigger than you". Poor people, many of whom were contributors to the liberation struggle, have been relegated to being powerless observers of massive heists of public resources.

Institutional mechanisms to promote good governance and risk management to protect public goods seem to have been systematically undermined. The provisions of the Public Finance Management Act (PMFA) to govern an efficient and effective procurement process to ensure value for money for citizens, have been systematically neutered in many institutions at all levels of government. 

The use of emergency provisions to allow deviations from stringent procurement rules has become "the new normal" to enable the siphoning of public resources to friends, families and connected private sector companies.

That the new national director of public prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi, says the capacity of the NPA is being rebuilt to ensure more efficient prosecution of wrongdoers, encourages us. Effective law enforcement and prosecution of those abusing public resources would go a long way to discourage impunity. But it will not be enough to root out the culture of unaccountability.

We need to actively cultivate an ethos of public service as a calling and source of pride for citizens. This requires inculcating values of Ubuntu and civic activism from early on in our homes, communities and education system to prepare young people to assume their responsibilities as proud citizens. It also requires that all public servants sign a code of conduct against which their performance would be judged. The performance management that President Ramaphosa has introduced should include this code of conduct.

It is becoming clearer that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will recruit, retain and reward people with emotional intelligence, empathy and future orientation. As technology and artificial intelligent machines replace humans in executing many tasks, demand will grow for those with attributes that promote high quality interpersonal and social relationships. These attributes are also increasingly sought after in leadership for both the public and private sectors.

Our country has the potential as before to defy the naysayers who predict our slippery slope to socio-economic collapse. Values-based leadership to drive the transformation of our socio-economic structures would unleash the energies and creativity of the people of this beautiful country.

Strategic interventions in key productive sectors such as land reform and agriculture, human settlements, water and waste removal as well as renewable energy, are the keys to a prosperous future. Ubuntu driven citizens in both the public and private sectors are the motors to drive this prosperity for all. 

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

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