The government’s contentious draft Protection of Information Bill would hamper the fight against corruption, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says. “COSATU is committed to free expression… I believe the Protection of Information Bill as currently drafted … will severely restrict all media.”
“It will also threaten whistle blowers… who could face prosecution and jail for revealing incriminating evidence of corruption or incompetence by public officials who can simply classify the relevant information as ‘top secret’ and intimidate those trying to expose their wrong-doing.”
How could the government say it was serious about rooting out corruption while restricting the free flow of information? Vavi rhetorically asked a Daily Maverick conference yesterday.
The South African Press Association reports him as saying an example was an interdict the SA Police Service obtained last week to stop the Sunday Independent newspaper from reporting on nepotism in the police. Despite moves by the State to root out corruption, there have been “very few” actual prosecutions for tender corruption. “… while everyone agrees in principle that corruption is a cancer that will undermine our democracy and destroy social cohesion if it is not cut out, we seem to be paralysed when it comes to identifying the culprits and punishing the guilty.”
Vavi said that South Africans should know all leaders were serious about the fight against corruption. “Members of our organisations must believe their leaders are genuine and not the fakes masquerading as honest when they are prime predators looking for opportunities,” he said. “…once criminals and corrupt gang knows that they have nothing to fear… then our country will descend into a jungle for the predatory elite. All of us have a responsibility to stop this from happening.”
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, speaking after Vavi, said that the draft bill was not a media law but a security one. He said the legislation was based on laws in existence in many countries. Mantashe said that the security minister knew that legislation had not withstood constitutional scrutiny.
Vavi and Mantashe spoke as government outlined far-reaching steps to tackle corruption in the public sector, amid what the Business Day reports is “shock new evidence” showing that efforts to roll back the tide of corruption are failing to deliver on the promise of clean administration.
So deep-rooted is the problem, says the daily, that Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi told Parliament Wednesday that the R25 billion worth of cases cited by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week could be just the tip of the iceberg of the malfeasance taking place.
Parliament heard that between September 2004 and March 2008, for example, of the 4202 cases of corruption referred to national and provincial departments, feedback was received in only 1292 cases (31%) and only 335 cases were finalised. Disciplinary action was taken against only 13% of the 3134 public servants identified by auditor-general Terence Nombembe as doing business with the government. Not identifying business interests and moonlighting were rife.
This is despite a plethora of anticorruption efforts, including the Public Service Commission’s anticorruption hotline; an interministerial committee on anticorruption established last year by President Jacob Zuma to ensure co-ordination and policy coherence; and a multi-agency working group established by Gordhan last year to investigate potentially high-risk irregularities in procurement.
The government also participates in the flagging National Anti-Corruption Forum with business and civil society. Baloyi said legislative and regulatory amendments are in the pipeline to centralise enforcement of anticorruption measures, and the management of investigations in the special anticorruption unit he announced recently.
Amendments to the Public Service Act and regulations to prevent suspected officials being paid on suspension are among measures being considered. A public sector integrity framework to manage ethical conduct in relation to financial interests, gifts, hospitality and other benefits, as well as post-employment issues and moonlighting, is also being drawn up.
And departments will also be checking the business interests of prospective candidates for senior posts before taking them on. Baloyi said one of the unit’s functions would be to co-ordinate all anticorruption efforts, both within and outside of the government, and to work with the Special Investigating Unit. “There is great frustration about the delayed response of departments in fighting corruption, especially in managing conflicts of interest and tender irregularities,” the acting director-general of the Department of Public Service and Administration, Kenny Govender, told Parliament’s public service committee.
“In cases where wrongdoing is identified, sometimes it takes several months for disciplinary processes to be initiated. “Officials are suspended on full pay for months and sometimes for years. There are significant inconsistencies in the type of sanctions applied for similar offences and allegations of corruption reported to the anticorruption hotline are also referred back to departments for follow-up, but because departments do not have sufficient investigative capacity, initial investigations are never completed,” Govender said. The two main culprit departments in this regard were health and education.