PROFESSOR ASLAM FATAAR of Stellenbosch University denounces the looting of state COVID-19 funding as well as the silence of key community voices in the wake of this corruption. He calls for decisive action against the perpetrators of this crime against the poor and needy of our country.
Corruption has reached pandemic proportions. Like an incurable virus, corruption has infected government procurement processes, killing our dreams and desires of a better life.
The latest swathe of COVID-19 related governmental corruption has reached a state of venality, dying and death. The government’s coffers are being ransacked by marauding predators, leading to mayhem and destruction.
COVID-19 related tender corruption robs an already insipid government response to the pandemic of much-needed resources for securing safe and effective health and welfare responses. This has led to inflated prices for basic health necessities and the supply of mediocre health equipment and services. Hospitals have fallen into disrepair, with blood-stained dirty hospital wards in the Eastern Cape, and testing kits dumped in the rivers of Gauteng.
In the meantime, nine million schoolchildren are foregoing an essential meal because of the government’s inability or unwillingness to implement the school nutrition programme during the pandemic.
Let us not forget that the current insidious pattern of corruption, while appallingly callous in its execution, is not unexpected. This comes on the back of decades of state corruption, starting in the 1990s with the still ongoing criminal case related to arms procurement, and the decade of state capture under the previous president.
It is clear that corruption is a key functional feature of the ruling party. While the ANC, as the ruling party, is at the centre of spectacular predation, other parties have also been compromised. Think of the ‘EFF and VBS’ and the ‘DA’s tender corruption’ in the cities of Tshwane and Johannesburg. Corruption under the ANC in the Free State happens in plain sight. No action from the country’s law agencies is yet forthcoming.
Civil society has been mute. Not one organisation in the Muslim community, for example, has come out to condemn the recent spate of COVID-19 related tenderpreneurship-type corruption. Thus far, the alarm has been raised by the media which sent the ruling party scurrying.
The government’s response was to set up an intergovernmental Ministerial committee to investigate corruption. This is a case of ‘investigating your own’, which will be compromised by the venal factional politics of the ruling party. This will surely mean that no effective action will be taken against those who ransacked the state from its COVID-19 allocated money.
One or two minions will be targeted and probably prosecuted. But prominent politicians who are compromised and their patronage networks will remain intact. They will go to ground and wait for the next set of tender opportunities before they pounce to transact the next orgy of theft and corruption. In the meantime, poor communities are dying at the hands of the very government in whom they placed their trust.
The despair and disappointment, however, are the outcome of observing what has begun to amount to a culture of corruption in government, the bureaucracy and in the business community where many of the drivers of corruption originate.
Corruption in government and the public and private sectors are deeply troubling and unjust. There is now a generalised sense that corruption in the public sector is has begun to eat away at the fabric of our constitutional democracy.
The time has arrived to condemn government corruption and ongoing state capture unequivocally. There is no grey area. And there is no false binary between unequivocal support for clean government on the one hand and poverty alleviation and socially just development on the other. Anti-corruption infrastructure is one of society’s key instruments for delivering on society’s transformation expectations.
Corruption in government and the public and private sectors are deeply troubling and unjust. A clean, properly functioning state is central to securing a government platform to deliver on the expectations for basic services and infrastructure.
We have to join forces with all sectors in civil society to demand independent oversight of all tender processes, and lifestyle audits must be compulsory for all politicians and government officials. Corruption stands condemned in the Qur’an when God exhorts us in the following way:
When they are told; ‘Do not spread corruption in the land’, they respond by saying; ‘We are true social reformers’. But in reality they are purveyors of corruption though they realise it not (Q. 2, V11 and V12).
This verse challenges us to stop buying the spin of politicians that they are well-meaning social reformers. These types of people do not hesitate to use pathetic spin as a cover for stealing our societies blind. They cause people to live and die in horrid and decrepit circumstances.
We now have to build a politics of anti-corruption as one of the mainstays of securing just livelihoods in our country. This task is now upon us. History will be unkind to us if we fail to respond.
Aslam Fataar is professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University. He is currently doing Research and Development work attached to the university’s Transformation Office.
Featured image: Shacks in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Corruption in the public sector robs the treasury of billions which should be going towards providing basic services, including decent housing. (Photo NIKOLAI LINK/ 123RF.COM)