Some of South Africa’s politicians have “mastered the art of corruption”, and the country’s laws and regulations often enable their illegal and corrupt activities.
This is feedback from Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh, who told 702 that the country is dealing with a phenomenon of ‘cronyism’ – people with connections getting benefits.
For example, the country’s procurement system means that some companies can go after bids without their beneficial owners being known.
This system lends itself to being abused by people connected to government officials – families and friends – to reap the benefits of those connections to win bids.
“One of the big things we’ve been talking about in terms of reforming the public procurement system is ensuring that the system is much more transparent so you can pick up on these things earlier,” Singh said.
“But even if we tighten up the rules, it seems as if we have people that have mastered these kinds of arts – concealing their identity by using friends of using other associates to kind of warehouse money.”
“This phenomenon of people living these kinds of extravagant lifestyles, living in houses of friends, or borrowing cars or people paying for trips, has become part of the political culture in the country.”
He said South Africa’s system needs more transparency and the tightening of rules to stamp out the country’s culture of corruption.
For example, South Africa could expand definitions such as ‘politically exposed persons’ so government officials cannot conduct business with their families and friends.
“At the moment, we still have this almost ‘free market culture’ that says, ‘You can’t tell me that just because I’m involved in politics that I can’t be involved in business’,” he said.
He referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm as an example of how connected people are protected.
The President has been suspected of having breached the Constitution in the handling of the burglary of foreign currency stashed in a sofa at Phala Phala.
Singh said this situation illustrated “how problematic it is to have a head of state with a farm that engages in business practices that receive large sums of cash”.
“It’s just an automatic red flag that you have a potential money laundering type of situation. We need to have much firmer rules around prohibiting certain people from doing business with government.”
He emphasised that it is important for the country and the economy for the government to procure goods.
However, South Africa needs a firmer system to disqualify politically exposed people from conducting business with the government – and this includes better enforcement when corruption is discovered.
He referred to cases like the VBS and PPE tender scandals, where government officials were exposed for corrupt dealings but never faced serious consequences.
“I think we need to see a change in terms of the culture – in terms of what we think is permissible – and we need to tighten up the rules and just exclude a whole range of people from doing business with the government,” he said.
“And people are just going to have to accept that if you’re going into the public service, this is the trade-off that comes with it.”
Singh suggested the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency and more strict lifestyle audits, particularly for higher-ranking government officials like MPs and Cabinet members.