The State Security Agency (SSA), South African Revenue Services (Sars), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the South African Police Service (SAPS) and South African Airways (SAA) have all found themselves in headlines for all the wrong reason, with claims of corruption flying thick and fast.
And when a reputable law firm finds 39% of respondents to its third annual anti-bribery and corruption survey of 2016 have experienced bribery or corruption in the past 24 months, it draws a line under just how big the problems are.
“It’s huge. It’s really a setback, and I think until we have a turn at the top in this country, none of those bodies are going to function efficiently,” said forensic executive and advocate Steven Powell of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs Africa (ENSafrica) in Sandton, Johannesburg, yesterday.
Of the 39%, 18% experienced three or more incidents and 20% experienced five or more incidents, Powell said during a presentation.
The results come off a relatively small base of 132 responses to a survey – by mostly corporate clients of ENSafrica’s and a few government departments – that was sent to a large database.
“It’s the best sample in South Africa because not many organisations do this, and it’s the only way we can test commitment to compliance,” Powell said.
There are international ramifications to widespread corruption, with most respondents (89%) indicating they did business in Africa, and 26% doing business in England and America as well.
With the South African government the biggest spender – R500 billion, according to an undated page of the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer under National Treasury – there is a lot of opportunity for a lot of money to go missing.
However, it doesn’t pay to be a whistleblower in South Africa. Internal processes are almost always ignored until the frustrated whistleblower approaches the media, which results in the whistleblower being fired at worst, and at best termed a “disgruntled employee”.
“Government has been looking at revising the whistleblower protection legislation and is talking about ways to improve anonymity,” Powell said.
“Legislation has been under review for the past five years. They keep saying the changes are imminent, but it’s just never happening.”
Government had to come to the party with better facilities to protect whistleblowers, Powell told The Citizen.
“I spoke about companies having hotline facilities. Government has to really invest in facilities that work, that protect anonymity because if the crooks don’t know who blew the whistle, it is harder for victimisation to happen. But there are some horror stories of whistleblowers who have been subjected to harassment, which shows the legislation is not working,” Powell said.
It’s not all bad however.
“I’m optimistic giving Treasury more power to investigate corrupt tenders, corrupt contracts, to blacklist and de-bar will have a positive effect in the future.
“At the moment we can only blacklist after a conviction, which can take years,” said Powell.
“If companies do what they are supposed to be doing, it’s harder for a bribe to be paid,” said Powell.