Despite serious charges or allegations against them, a number of politicians continue to hold office or stand for elections, writes EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR.
ALMOST on a daily basis, we hear of corruption in politics. Corruption by politicians has cost the country trillions of rand, which is unlikely to ever be recovered. But corruption is not unique to the continent of Africa or to South Africa, and is not confined to one’s race, nationality or religion. It is a global phenomenon, with serious consequences.
There are various factors that contribute to corruption – political, economic, social etc. Politicians who are struggling to make ends meet might be tempted to loot the state coffers but, often, it is greed that drives many to resort to corrupt practices. Politicians who love to be in authority hold on to power at all costs, with dire consequences.
One of the drawbacks of the democratic system of government is that it allows for the appointment to public office of unethical politicians through the mechanism of the majority vote. This means that in any given constituency the least ethical or moral (read corrupt) candidate could be appointed; on the other hand, the most ethical candidate could be defeated at the polls.
It is no wonder that we are witnessing nepotism, cadre deployment, bribery, awarding tenders to friends and family, and embezzling state funds on an unprecedented scale. Citizens in many countries are now protesting against the corruption of their political leaders. Intense campaigning by the electorate has forced political leaders out of office in some instances and, in others, political leaders have stepped down voluntarily.
In South Africa, we have been experiencing massive protests against service delivery and unemployment as well as corruption by politicians. Despite serious charges or allegations against them, a number of politicians continue to hold office or stand for elections. Though a few have appeared in court, none have been penalised to date. Not surprisingly, public trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, the tactics employed by the protesters have resulted in violence against officials, xenophobia, looting, destruction of property and lawlessness.
Globally, there are demands for politicians to be held to account for their corrupt practices that obstruct infrastructure development, prevent peaceful co-existence, and undermine respect for the rule of law.
This brings us to the point: should there be a set of established criteria for politicians to be elected to office. If the answer is yes, what should be the criteria? Who will determine the criteria? How will candidates be measured against the criteria?
Unfortunately, most politicians in South Africa do not seem to have much regard for ethical or moral values. One proposal that is being bandied about is that corruption should be considered a violation of human rights. This opens the possibility of politicians being prosecuted for their involvement in or support for corrupt practices. Another is that politicians should conform to certain basic ethical or moral values such as honesty, fairness, trustworthiness, integrity and concern for others.