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Growing menace of corruption in Southern Africa

Speaker's Corner

Growing menace of corruption in Southern Africa

A recent UNECA conference as well as specialised reports have focused on rising corruption in Southern Africa. What is the solution? By Allen Choruma 

Despite the 15 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states being signatories to the African Union (AU) Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) of 2013 and the SADC Protocol against Corruption (SADCPC) of 2001, the level of corruption in Southern Africa has reached alarming proportions. It can now be said to be a major threat to socio-economic transformation, sustainable development and stability in the region.

A conference sponsored by the UNECA sub-regional office for Southern Africa, in collaboration with the AU’s sub-regional office for Southern Africa, themed: ‘Corruption and the Challenge of Economic Transformation in Southern Africa’ was held in Gaborone, Botswana in July and highlighted the disconcerting corruption in the region and Africa.

The 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (TI-CPI) shows that of the 15 countries in the SADC bloc, 11 countries are below the average CPI score of 50/100, out of a total of 180 countries surveyed. Angola is perceived as the most corrupt in the SADC at number 167/180 (with a score of 19), followed by DRC at 161/80 (score 21), Zimbabwe 157/180 (score 22) and Mozambique at 153/180 (score 25).

Only four African countries, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Seychelles stand above the 50/100 score and they are the least corrupt in Africa. Botswana ranks at number 34/180 (with a score of 61). The TI-CPI is based on expert opinion and measures the level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Corruption is often defined as the misuse or abuse of office for private gain (World Bank, 1997, UNDP, 1999). Common in both the private and public sectors, it is most endemic in the public sector.

The major driver of corruption in the region has been cited as non- performing economies, resulting in increasing levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Other factors such as poor governance, a weak institutional framework, abuse of political power and failing moral fabrics have all combined to drive corruption up in the region.

The late former UN Secretary- General, Kofi Annan, aptly summarised matters thus: “Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects in societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to security to flourish.

“Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”

According to NA’s July editorial, it is estimated that 75m Africans have had to pay bribes to get services their taxes entitle them to. This has driven the AU to declare 2018 as the year when Africa will embark on ‘Winning the Fight against Corruption’, to find ‘A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’.

In the SADC region, ‘state capture’ is a form of sophisticated corruption which is becoming endemic, having shown its ugly head, especially, in Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa. “State capture is a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage,” according to Wikipedia. South Africa presents the most recent high-profile example of state capture, involving former President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers.

It is alleged that the relationship between Zuma and the Guptas mutated into state capture, giving the Guptas powers to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers and directors of state-owned enterprises and leverage on those relationships to get preferential treatment in securing state contracts and access to state business finance. A Commission of Inquiry on State Capture is currently underway in South Africa.

Corruption, governance and politics are all intertwined and their relationship impacts on the fight to eradicate corruption.

According to UN Global Issues: “Governance is considered ‘good’ and ‘democratic’ in the degree to which a country’s institutions and processes are transparent. Its processes include such key activities as elections and legal procedures, which must be seen to be free of corruption and accountable to the people. Good governance promotes equity, participation, plurarism, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

It should be noted that countries in Southern Africa, whose governance systems are genuinely anchored on the democratic foundations of rule of law and constitutionalism, buttressed by the principle of the separation of powers that provides for independent functions of state organs, i.e. the legislature, judiciary and the executive, tend to be more transparent and accountable and generally have lower levels of corruption.

Where governance structures are weak, there is a tendency for less transparency and accountability, porous oversight and ineffective law enforcement and judiciary systems, leading to higher incidences of corruption through abuse of power and the looting of state resources by those in positions of authority.

Political patronage fuels corruption and is rampant in Southern Africa’s political arena, dominated by liberation-era parties such as the ANC (South Africa), Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe) and Frelimo (Mozambique).

Liberation parties are often criticised for deliberately violating  the principle of separation of powers through their failure to separate the party from state organs, resulting in the politicisation of state institutions, thus eroding their effectiveness and independence in fighting corruption. As a result of intricate patronage networks, politicians from these parties are often shielded from investigation and prosecution for ill-gotten wealth.

Toothless bulldogs

According to a 2017 report by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) titled Effectiveness of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Southern Africa, all SADC countries have either statutory or constitutional anti-corruption agencies, yet corruption is on the increase in the region. 

An analysis of the OSISA report shows that, outside South Africa, the other anti-corruption agencies reviewed in Southern Africa have not been very effective.

Zimbabwe, for example, on paper has the ideal legal and institutional framework to fight corruption,  based on the work of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), yet the results on the ground point in the other direction. Efforts to curb corruption remain weak despite political rhetoric from the leadership. ZACC, hamstrung by a lack of strong political will, resources and independence, has been described as a ‘toothless bulldog’; no high-profile corruption case has been successfully prosecuted under it. Its independence is compromised since it depends on other institutions such as the police and the prosecuting authority for investigations and prosecutions respectively, which are directly controlled by the Executive.

Earlier this year, Transparency International launched the Corruption and Cultural Dynamics in Zimbabwe Report, 2017, which reveals startling corruption statistics and provides detailed empirical evidence on how corruption has permeated into the culture and daily lives of Zimbabweans across social classes.

According to the report: “The design and implementation of anti-corruption policy actions [in Zimbabwe] can…be interpreted as a facade or smoke screen done to window-dress corruption, without the deep moral and political conviction to genuinely confront and curb it.”

Corruption in Africa has become so entrenched that it cannot be fought with laws alone. There is a need to grow our economies to arrest drivers of corruption such as unemployment, poverty and inequality.

A concoction of measures is needed, such as strengthening governance systems and institutions, upholding the rule of law, separation of powers to ensure independence of the judiciary, executive and legislature and enforcement of laws. Ultimately, people have a duty to play in fighting corruption at individual, family, community and national levels. NA

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