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South African Official Cites Progress in Curbing Corruption

The African Union says corruption costs the continent 150 billion dollars a year, hindering progress in investment and development. Transparency International says in South Africa the figure is about eight billion dollars a year.

The AU and sub-regional bodies are working to curb the problem. Both the AU and the Southern African Development Community have protocols against corruption. And the AU’s strategic program for Africa’s future, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, calls for a peer review of willing African countries to determine, among other things, any issues hindering good governance and economic management. So, 25 countries have signed up for the review, but so far only Rwanda and Ghana have completed the process.

Some anti-corruption critics complain that the AU, regional bodies and even the peer review process lack punitive measures, or “teeth.” Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi disagrees. She is the minister of public service and administration in South Africa and chair of one of the country’s anti-corruption watchdogs, the National Anti-Corruption Forum.

Fraser-Molekti told English to Africa reporter William Eagle, “Not everything that that requires compliance needs teeth. You must look at the importance of networking, sharing of information…. There is [indeed] enforcement…. Look at the breadth of areas that the SADC protocol deals with – money laundering, etc…and there are already agreements between countries [that allow steps to be] taken against individuals who have violated laws. She adds that the AU is three countries short of forming an advisory group that would monitor the implementation of the organization’s anti-corruption convention.

As for her own country, she says South Africa is now debating a national self-assessment report – a part of the peer review process. Participants in a consultative conference evaluating the report met for the second time on May 6th.

A parliamentary committee evaluating the study found that South Africa had made major strides in fighting corruption. But it recommended improved co-ordination between the agencies responsible for dealing with the problem and better anti-corruption capacity.

Fraser-Moleketi says the self-assessment report also mentions the need for improving corporate governance. She mentioned a few of the ideas being considered: “Every company in South Africa needs to ensure they present their annual reports – that they are publicly available and that the share holders open their accounts to public scrutiny and there’s a public declaration of what salaries are, the dividends of the share holders and the fees owed them…. "

South Africans involved with the country’s peer-review assessment report are also considering a so-called “integrity pact” between government agencies and private bidders. Under the rules of the pact – which was proposed by Transparency International – the agency promises that it will not accept bribes during the procurement process, and bidders promise that they will not offer bribes.

Summarizing the government’s efforts to fight corruption, Fraser-Moleketi says, “The big focus is on prevention and on putting controls in place to ensure there are checks and balances so we can, through our system, be sure we have a cohesive approach to deal with [the problem]. There is a clear anti-corruption framework for the public sector in South Africa. We [also] have a National Anti-Corruption Forum that brings together the private sector, NGOs, government, civil society and the public. It’s an advisory structure to government that reflects on work in respective sectors and their role in involving public in fighting corruption."

While transparency in public and corporate transactions is important, she cautions against making unfounded allegations of corruption: “Naming and shaming is an important measure, but you can only name and shame once allegations have been proved. You have to avoid trial by media. You must make sure the process take its course according to all of our constitutions [in the region]. So if companies or corporations have been proved to have violated the corporate governance [regulations] or have been involved in corruption, then, yes, we are looking at blacklisting [them], but that has to be dealt with globally…. We must do it in a legal framework so you do not have a situation where you have people or corporations wrongly accused of corruption that has not been proved."

Fraser-Molekei says South African enjoys a sound legal framework in terms of corporate governance. She says the government is working to broaden that framework and help enhance corporate compliance with laws encouraging transparency. The goal, she says, is greater accountability, but not red tape.

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