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Vavi on corruption

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(source: Writing Rights)

Culture of self-enrichment is caused by obscene levels
of salaries, bonuses and perks for top executives,
led to South Africa becoming the most unequal society

A very important speech on corruption in government by Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi. This deserves wide circulation even if you do not share his political views.

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to SACP March Against Corruption, Durban 30 April 2010

Embargoed until 10h00, Friday 30 April 2010

I must begin by warmly welcoming the initiative taken by the SACP to launch a campaign against corruption. COSATU is with you all the way. This is a campaign we absolutely must win. If we fail there is no hope of preventing the collapse of our democracy and a descent into a banana republic dictatorship.

As the SACP General Secretary wrote in Umsebenzi, “We are currently in a period of a huge ideological offensive, especially directed at the youth, to push them towards the idolisation and the worshipping of wealth, obscene display of consumption, and generally the promotion of a ‘get rich quick’ mentality.” He warns us that “this mentality is reaching out into almost every corner of society, including academic institutions and some religious organisations – areas that ordinarily have been thought of as repositories of the highest standards of morality!” The evidence of corruption is overwhelming. A report to Parliament in August 2009 from the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission details many ways in which state officials and politicians enrich themselves at the expense of the public. They found that the extent of business done by employee- or spouse-related companies at provincial level, between 1 April 2005 and 31 January 2007, amounted to approximately R540,2 million. It paints a bleak picture of public servants who are supposed to caring for the public, but are promoting their own narrow material and financial interests. This corruption is so endemic that departments are not enforcing the laws and officials are exploiting gaps in the laws to win government tenders. If we ever wondered why individuals change their ideological and political stance, the answer is provided in this Auditor-General’s report. If we wondered why comrades could be so unreliable politically and simply shift loyalties with lightning speed, the answer lies in this report. If we want to understand the divisions and battles waged for leadership positions in our organisations, the answer is provided in this report. If you want to know why some people leave their thriving businesses to join government, which pays peanuts in comparison, the possible answer may lie in the examples provided in this report. Further evidence can be found in a report by Willie Hofmeyr, head of the Special Investigating Unit, which identified 400,000 civil servants getting welfare payments to which they were not entitled. The unit did a seven-year investigation into massive fraud at the department of correctional services. As a result, corruption charges have been brought against 26 prison doctors and ten officials. A further 423 had been disciplined and the prison chief suspended. A further 6,000 senior government officials had failed to declare their business interests, as required by the law, and were awaiting disciplinary hearings. But the state’s ability to convict and punish the guilty was, said Hofmeyr, “pretty limited and, in some cases, almost completely non-existent”. The unit has now been called in to investigate more allegations of fraud in the ministry of public works, one of the biggest public-procurement departments, after a discovery that suppliers in cahoots with officials had been charging wildly inflated prices of up to four times the real costs. Public housing is another area particularly exposed to graft. Tokyo Sexwale has revealed that 923 corrupt officials in his department had been brought to book over various scams, including the construction of thousands of substandard low-cost homes for the poor, many of which were unfit for human inhabitation. Of course the large majority of public representatives and senior officials are honest and dedicated servants of the public and not involved in any form of corrupt activities. But for as long as a minority can get away with corrupt and fraudulent activities, it will undermine public confidence in all officials and the whole democratic system. Comrades and friends We welcome the strong stance the ANC has taken against corruption. Its 2004 manifesto made a commitment to “ensure efficient functioning of all anti-corruption structures and systems including whistle-blowing, blacklisting of corrupt companies, implementation of laws to ensure exposure of, and action against, private sector corruption, and quicker processes to deal with any corrupt civil servants and public officials”. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe says that corruption is “far worse than anyone imagines…at all levels of government.” Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, in his Budget speech on 17 February 2010, described corruption as “an ever-present threat to our ambitions” and identified tender fraud as a serious challenge. Gwede Mantashe says that “too many comrades regard election to public office as simply a chance to get rich,” and Treasurer General, Matthews Phosa, says that “we must move away from a culture of greed and self-enrichment to one of transparent accountability.” I absolutely agree with all these leaders, yet the problem persists. Why? The source of the problem is, and has always been, the capitalist system, whose culture of self-enrichment has led to the obscene levels of salaries, bonuses and perks for top executives, which has led to South Africa becoming the most unequal society on earth. The capitalist system has always been run on the basis of the survival of the fittest, where the principle of ‘dog-eats-dog’ and ‘me-first’ applies. Whilst workers’ universal slogan is “an injury to one is an injury to all” the capitalist mentality daily practises: “an injury to one is an opportunity to another”. These are the people who tempt and corrupt public representatives. Corruption has never been just a problem in the public sector. There are two sides to corruption. For every person who receives a bribe there is another who gives the bribe. For every corrupt councillor or public official there is a corrupt businessman or woman. All too often the temptation is too big to resist for a people’s representative not to use political power to advance private commercial interests. It is the biggest threat to our efforts to establish a transparent and corruption-free government. It is not good enough for ministers and public officials to hide behind the argument that they have ‘declared an interest’ in the companies they and their family own. Even if they are not benefiting directly or corruptly from government tenders, the fact that they are in business to make money creates an inevitable conflict of interest when they are legislating in parliament, a provincial legislature or municipal council. The danger always exists that in formulating policy, they will be guided by the impact this will have on their businesses rather than the broader public interest. Comrades and friends All public representatives must be forced to choose whether they are servants of the public or in business to make profits. They cannot be both at the same time. But I want to squash this idea that our campaign against corruption is targeting ANC representatives or black entrepreneurs. We are not discriminating against anyone. Corrupt officials can be found among members of all parties and all ethnic groups. Indeed we have conceded that the trade unions are also not immune from this problem. A corrupting relationship can also exist between union leaders and officials and service providers and we are determined to monitor this and take firm action against any trade unionists found guilty of lining their pocket by corrupt means. If political or trade union positions are seen as the means to enrich oneself it is little surprise that comrades murder each other to win positions which have become a stepping stone to wealth. The politics of patronage have destroyed the self-sacrificing and service ethic that characterised the movement for decades. It is a cancer eating slowly at all components of the mass democratic movement from branch to national level. Another issue of concern is the lifestyle of leadership compared to ordinary people and members. The ostentatious show of wealth, flashy cars and expensive parties has become a social norm among the elite. It is as if there are two standards for leaders and for ordinary people. It is all this that gives politics a bad name. This notion of some being more equal than others can alienate society from the state and members from the union leadership. Who can trust the credibility of a politician or union leader who preaches moderation and patience to the working class, while they line their pockets with public resources? The third problem is the phenomenon of feathering one’s nest while still in public service, which we have called ‘throwing the javelin’. An example was the sale of Telkom shares. The Department of Public Service, in recognition of this problem has developed guidelines for a cooling-off period of one year after a public servant leaves the public service, but we believe it should be five years. Comrades and friends The primary motive force of the revolution – the working class – is once again called upon to rescue our liberation movement from the elements who give it a bad name and image. COSATU, the leading detachment of the working class, must lead the way, starting internally of course. The only real weapon we have against greed and corruption is our organisations. The 2015 Plan’s objective of building COSATU, ANC, SACP and the rest of the democratic movement is critical. Without that we are all doomed. We must inject more politics in our transformation. When revolutionary politics die the politics of crass materialism and downright corruption take root. We must provide political backing to those in government who are sick and tired of this looting of public resources. We must consider what specific roles that COSATU in general and the COSATU public sector unions in particular can play to provide support and protect whistle blowers. We call on the government at all levels to find its political will to act against any corruption, no matter who is involved. We still have to see a high profile individual being shown the door for corruption, despite many cases being known. We still have to see the President ordering an investigation to validate countless allegations carried by the media. Government should blacklist companies and their directors and employees who conduct business without disclosing their interests, and they should be banned from doing business with government again. All companies applying for government business should indicate the extent of shareholding by government employees and their spouses. If an employee is involved in a conflict of interest and derives a benefit, such benefit or gain should be paid back to the state. Instead of misusing state resources through moonlighting and manipulation of tenders, public servants should utilise their time and skill to promote programmes to benefit the poor and working class. Such acts would go a long way to send a message to all others that crime and corruption does not pay. There has been overwhelming support for COSATU’s call for a ‘lifestyle audit’ of senior public officials, to assist in the fight against corruption. This does not in any way suggest that all cabinet ministers and senior government officials are suspects. It is certainly not intended to feed into racial stereotypes that all blacks who are well off should be investigated. Nor is it not about undermining black people’s right to be rich like their white counterparts. It is definitely not targeting only ANC members or COSATU’s political opponents. It is aimed at all senior politicians and public officials – black or white, ANC and non-ANC. Lifestyle audits are a weapon to help us to identify, prosecute and punish those involved in corruption, but also to exonerate the innocent majority. COSATU leaders have already agreed they are happy to do so if this would encourage better cooperation from all. But if COSATU leaders must submit, so must all the leaders of all political parties, business and civil society. The big majority who have nothing to hide should be eager to prove that their lifestyles are consistent with the income they receive for doing their job and from no other sources. In conclusion comrades The succession of corruption scandals and the spread of the capitalist culture of greed and self-enrichment are threatening to unravel the fabric of society and undermine all the great progress we have made. It all combines to spell five words: our revolution is in danger! As more and more join this drive for wealth, the more the needs of workers and the poor take a back seat. Individualism takes root and soon we will be en-route to Zimbabwe and other failed revolutions. This is not what OR Tambo sacrificed thirty years of his life in exile for. This is not what Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in prison for. This is an insult to all of our heroes and heroines. We must stop this cancer before it is too late. We must raise our fingers now before down the line no one will be able to raise a finger without it being chopped off.