Scholars over the years have battled with the definition of corruption. Numerous definitions of the word have been viewed as problematic and remain fiercely contested. Hellman, Ones and Kaufman define corruption as “the use of public office for private gain”.
However this article argues that such a definition needs broadening to include the following:
- Abuse of power and breach of trust;
- The fact that corruption occurs in the public, private and non-governmental sectors; and
- The fact that private gain is not the only motive for corrupt activities.
The National Anti-Corruption Forum in its 1999 conference report defined corruption as “any conduct or behaviour in relation to persons entrusted with responsibilities in public office which violates their duties as public officials and which is aimed at obtaining undue gratification of any kind for themselves or for others”.
The Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (No 12 of 2004) outlines a framework for the strengthening of measures to prevent and combat corruption, provides investigative measures in respect of corruption, places certain restrictions on persons and enterprises convicted of corrupt activities relating to tenders and contracts and provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction in respect of the offense of corruption and offences relating to corrupt activities.
Yet in spite of all these provisions in the Act, corruption still continues in many district and local municipalities.
Recently, an Auditor-General’s report on the Alfred Nzo District Municipality revealed that municipal officials paid themselves unauthorised bonuses amounting to thousands of rands that were initially earmarked for service delivery. This happened in a district where most people still have no clean water to drink, no electricity and no proper roads. This is one among many municipalities where corruption is common.
In 1999, the government adopted a Public Service Anti-Corruption Strategy as a result of a process of implementing the resolutions of the National Anti-Corruption Summit. This strategy was reviewed in 2003/4 and the review report concluded that South Africa has made great strides in fighting corruption but noted that serious challenges still remain, particularly at a local level. The report also highlighted that corruption in national government had decreased markedly, while corruption increased at a local level. It is therefore important to understand the various forms in which corruption manifests itself at the local government level.
a) Bribery: bribery involves the promise, offering or giving of a benefit that improperly affects the actions or decisions of a public official. This benefit may accrue to the public official, another person or entity. A variation of this manifestation occurs where a political party or government is offered, promised or given a benefit that improperly affects the actions or decisions of the political party or government.
b) Fraud: this involves actions or behaviour by a public official, other person or entity that fool others into providing a benefit that would not normally accrue to the public official, other persons or entity.
c) Embezzlement: involves theft of resources by persons entrusted with the authority and control of such resources.
d) Extortion: involves coercing a person or entity to provide a benefit to a public official, another person or entity in exchange for acting (or failing to act) in a particular manner.
e) Abuse of power: involves a public official using his/her vested authority to improperly benefit another public official, person or entity (or using the vested authority to improperly discriminate against another person, official or entity).
f) Conflict of interest: involves a public official acting or failing to act on a matter where the public official has an interest or another person or entity that stands in a relationship with the public official, i.e. a public official considers tenders for a contract and awards the tender to a company of which his/her partner is the director.
g) Favouritism: involves the provision of services or resources according to personal affiliations of a public official. An example would be a Mayor ensuring that only persons from his/her political organisation are successful in tenders or in employment.
h) Nepotism: involves a public official ensuring that family members are appointed to public service positions or that family members receive contracts.
The effects of all these types of corruption seriously impacts on the national economy and prevents good governance. Corruption erodes stability and trust and it damages the ethos of democratic government. Its macro-economic and social costs are immense. Generally corruption has four types of costs:
Macro-fiscal: this includes lost revenue from tax and custom levies, licensing fees, traffic fines, etc and high expenditure as a result of corruption loadings and fronting on state contracts.
Reduction in productive investment and growth: the costs of corruption are particularly high for areas in great need of inflows of productive foreign capital. Widespread corruption provides a poor environment that does not attract foreign investment. Corruption however attracts those investors seeking to make quick profits through dubious ventures.
Costs to the public and the poor in particular: diversion of resources from their intended purposes distorts the formulation of public policy and the provision of services
Loss of confidence in public institutions: once services can be bought and public officials break the trust and confidence people have in them, a loss in confidence in public institutions sets in.
The Good Governance Surveys, conducted by Afesis-corplan in a number of local and district municipalities throughout South Africa, revealed that corruption still continues unabated. This happens at the expense of service delivery and at the expense of delivering on the mandate given to these municipalities. It is common in most municipalities for personnel costs to far outweigh the capital budget.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, many local communities in South Africa took to the streets to protest over lack of service delivery. Very few municipalities ever receive a clean report from the auditor-general’s office and in many cases district and local municipalities never make the report public for its own citizens to view.
Perhaps government needs to review its current anti-corruption strategies, particularly at the local government level.
This article by Nontando Guwa-Ngamlana first appeared in the The Transformer (2009).