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Message by United Nations in South Africa on the occasion of the International Anti-Corrption Day 2019

As delivered by Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in South Africa, on 09 November 2019

Programme Director, Prof. Fikeni

Minister for Public Service and Administration Honourable Senzo Mchunu,

Vice-Chancellor of the University of South Africa Professor Makhanya,

Chairperson of the Public Service Commission Advocate Richard Sizani,

National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi,

Lieutenant General Lebeya, from the Hawks

Former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela,

Auditor General, Mr Kimi Makwetu,

Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa from the Moral Regeneration Movement,

CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Ms Busisiwe Mavuso,

Representatives of the diplomatic corps,

Speakers and delegates from the other law enforcement agencies,

Delegates from other organs of the state and civil society,

Officials from the UN, the Public Service Commission and the University,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we mark international anti-corruption day. This is part of the global movement against one of the greatest crimes to human development.  It takes place in every country in every continent on earth.  It is not solely a development issue, it is not only an economic issue it is definitely becoming a security issue, and the world needs to take it far more seriously.   

The irony of the discourse on global governance is that corruption is widely condemned yet widely practiced.

Individual firms, national governments and international development organisation have invested heavily in programs  to ensure that their leaders and employees are ethical and clean  from any corrupt practices, but there is an overwhelming evidence that these investments are not yielding as much success as we desire. Given the corrosive impact of corruption, today’s event is therefore intended to calling governments and citizens of the world to   redouble the collective  efforts through even greater investments in solutions for decisive action against corrupt practices.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, it recognised that hundreds of millions of people around the world who continue to live under highly precarious circumstances subjected to poverty and hunger, as a result of unemployment and inequalities, and other vulnerabilities caused by environmental degradation and climate change such as droughts and flooding. In as much as the SDG Framework provided us with a potentially transformative agenda to provide long-lasting responses to these multi-dimensional challenges facing our world, there was equally a strong recognition that an important pre-requisite for implementing the SDGs is the “Building of strong institutions to foster more citizen-responsive, resilient states and responsible societies”.

Within the SDG framework SDG 16 specifically advocates for “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”, with a strong focus on the following indicators which I think are highly relevant for our discussion this morning:

  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
  • By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime
  • Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms
  • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
  • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

As we pursue this broad goal of building strong institutions for a more sustainable development, these indicators present us with the specifics of what we should be focusing on.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable Minister, earlier I stated that the irony of corruption is that it is widely condemned yet widely practiced. Despite the strong emphasis on anti-corruption, strong institutions and rule of law in the SDGs,

In 2018 the Secretary‑General of the United Nations, Antonio Gutteres cited World Economic Forum estimated that the global cost of corruption is at least $2.6 trillion, or 5 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP).  According to the World Bank businesses and individuals pay more than $1 trillion in bribes every year.  The effects on development are enormous.

Using SDG 3 and health care as an example of the cost of corruption on the lives of ordinary citizens and their development, the World Economic Forum estimates that each year, $7.35 trillion is spent on healthcare worldwide, but $455 billion is lost to fraud and corruption, leading to the deaths of more than 140,000 children. Transparency International’s recent report Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) — Africa 2019 highlighted that some 14% of people who accessed healthcare services paid bribes to healthcare workers – and bribery affects women and children more than the rest of the population.

This is of course not limited to access to health care, but is present across the delivery of a range of social services….  such as education, access to social protection and important resources for economic activity for the poor such as land and water resources.   Corruption takes away people’s livelihoods and their lives.  It is for this reasons that  the former World Bank President defined corruption as the art of stealing from the poor and the weak.

In the South African context, much of the evidence coming out of the commissions of enquiries underway is revealing that these challenges and their impact on development have been particularly painful. Addressing the Financial Times Summit in London in October this year, President Ramaphosa presented a very glim picture on the costs of corruption to South Africa, suggesting that “a lot of money was siphoned off the coffers of the state through corrupt means, and some of those were done in a very sophisticated way, involving blue chip companies of great world reputations. The costs run way beyond R500 billion, with some suggesting as high a figure as  R1 trillion rand. By any stretch of the imagination these are astronomical figures, especially when one considers that South Africa’s 2019 budget had total expenditure of R 1.8 trillion. These estimates mean that corruption over the past couple of years has cost the country between 27% to 55% of its 2019 budget.

When one considers the enormous development challenges facing townships and rural areas, any diversion of funds away from public expenditure is surely taking away the livelihoods and lives from the poor.

Honourable Minister, one area I think the UN and Government of South Africa can partner on is on this very area of calculating the direct and indirect costs of corruption and maladministration in the country and understanding the impact of these costs on development. This is an important area of work in terms of elevating the discussion and rallying society behind national efforts to fight corruption.  It is also a way of promoting the values of transparency and accountability.

Honourable Minister, the South African Government’s efforts of opening itself up through the state capture, PIC, SARS and NPA commissions are commendable. These are actions of a government that is fully committed to understanding the roots, manifestations of and practice of corruption within government. This certainly bodes very well for on-going national efforts at addressing the challenge of corruption.   However, all the initiatives relative to investigation and legislation and data and information will not have any meaning if people do not feel the force of these penalties.   The United Nations is therefore ready to strengthen the prosecution capacity of the country .

It was with interest that I recently learned through the response of the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services to a parliamentary question that close to R400 million has been spent since the establishment of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of State Capture. This is yet another example of the costs that the country has to incur in dealing with corruption. It is unfortunately a cost that is necessary to avoid further erosion of state funds.  However, it is also money that could have been used to support the many orphans in need of social services, the young graduate who is anxiously waiting to apply his potential, the mother who is straddling between two-three jobs to feed her family, etc…..

Ladies and Gentlemen, on this day it is perhaps useful to take stock of South Africa’s performance and ranking on how it is fighting corruption and ensuring access to justice to all, and to the poorest of the poor. South Africa scored 43 points out of 100 on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. This sentiment is consistent with the finding of the SDG Country Report of 2019 published by Statistics South Africa, which indicates that the proportion of the population who reported having been asked for a bribe has increased from 0.09% in 2016 to 0.31% in 2018. This finding together with the revelations emanating from the commissions of inquiry established by government, depicts the extent of the challenges of corruption faced by the country.

Consistent with the above, the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Africa found that 40% of South African respondents believed that some police officers are corrupt, and 30% believed that most of them are. A worrying 19% believed that all police officers are corrupt.

Minister these are perceptions that South Africans have of some of their most critical national institutions which are responsible for maintaining an environment of safety and security and leading the fight against corruption in the country. This is something that the country must attend to.

In the State of the Nation Address in February, His Excellency, President Ramaphosa highlighted the challenges confronting South Africa regarding the problem of corruption. He commended the commissions of inquiry that have unearthed the depth of corrupt practices in state institutions. He maintained that the evidence of corruption that emerges must be evaluated by the criminal justice system and where there is a basis to prosecute, there will be a swift action in order to recover stolen public funds. The President further made concrete commitments to tackle these corrupt practices. Included in these commitments is the establishment of the investigative directorate in the office of the National Director of Public Prosecution to deal with the evidence emanating from the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Indeed, this commitment was acted upon when the President issued the proclamation for the establishment of the directorate and later in May, announced the head of the directorate.

There are other several significant efforts made by government to address the problem of corruption. These includes:

  • The development of the comprehensive National Anti-corruption Strategy, which is in the process of being finalized.
  • The recent establishment of the Special Investigating Unit Tribunal to finalize matters referred for civil litigation following the conclusion of investigations by the Special Investigating Unit.
  • The establishment of a task a team in October 2019 by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (The Hawks) to tackle corruption in municipalities; and
  • The launch of the Health Sector Anti-Corruption Forum on 01 October 2019 by the President.

We commend the President’s commitment, and as the UN we stand ready to provide support to ensure that all these efforts bear fruits.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I conclude I must emphasize that to eradicate a culture of corruption we must view all forms of corrupt practices, big or small, with the contempt they deserve and to respond to them with decisiveness. We must deal with all kinds of corruption with the same measure, zeal and apply the same standards. We must adopt the Chinese way, deal with both the ‘tigers’ and ‘flies’, and deal decisively with both high ranking and low-ranking public officials, business leaders, and other individuals with the same zeal and determination. We should all say ‘NO’ to corruption.  Government alone cannot root out the scourges of corruption, this is a ‘whole of society’ obligation.  Remember behind the rand figures stolen, there is a life lost….

Lastly, I would like to present to the Minister, the Public Service Commission and other state institutions leading this work, two additional potential areas of collaboration with the United Nations in South Africa.

First is working on harnessing the contribution of citizens to fight corruption through their active citizenry and ensuring that the fight against corruption is neither an elitist or statist exercise. This will require an empowered citizenry to play the role we envisage for it. This directly leads me to the second area of work I think could enhance national anti-corruption efforts, and this is greater investment in technology platforms to promote transparency in the work of government. We stand ready to work with you to identify what other countries are doing and have done in these two areas, with the intention of developing uniquely South African solutions to the challenges the country faces.

As the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov has said on the occasion of celebrating this day In building inclusive momentum for this key occasion, we have to listen to the voices of young people who are demanding transparency and moving the dial by taking action in their communities. We must capture the full potential of innovation in the fight against corruption, harnessing technology for monitoring, reporting, raising awareness and countering those who exploit it to enable their crimes”

A new generation of change-makers needs to place accountability and integrity at the centre of global leadership across business, politics, media and civil society. To this end the UN has embarked on a campaign called #YouthForJustice to mobilise and empower young people as they are key to ensuring sustainable solutions to combatting corruption.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year once gain the United Nations calls for the Global action to address corruption and we must work together, UNITED.

Mr. Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Public Service & Administration addresses delegates on International Anti-Corruption Day
Ms. Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resoident Coordinmatro of the UN in South Africa signs “The Anti-Corruption Pledge”
Advocate R.K Sizani, Chairperson of the Public Service Commission at the #InternationalAntiCorruptionDay event @UNISA
Mr. Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Public Service & Administration
Delegates at the International Anti-Corruption Day event at UNISA in Pretoria, South Africa