Reflections on the recent Alliance Summit and the corrosive effects of corruption
The recent Alliance Summit provided an opportunity for a brutally honest and critical introspection of where we are, where we are going, and where we are supposed to be. We were reminded of the milestones of our revolutionary path travelled so far:
- It is 60 years since the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown – a beacon of hope and a blueprint for our struggle for social justice and total emancipation of our masses.
- It is 70 years since the defeat of fascism that almost engulfed the world during WWII, and this victory occurred after some 46 million lives had been lost.
The Summit took place as we are entering the 2nd phase of our transition which we have proclaimed as the radical phase of socio-economic transformation that will usher in social justice for our masses and decisively take forward our National Democratic Revolution.
The present conjuncture calls for an honest appraisal of the challenges we face and the tasks necessary to take forward the NDR. Allow me to preface my remarks with the words of that great revolutionary African leader, Amilcar Cabral, in 1965, when he issued the following Party directive:
“We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our party life. Every responsible member must have the courage of his responsibilities, exacting from others a proper respect for his work and properly respecting the work of others. Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victory.”
Corruption: The cancer eating into the bone marrow of our revolution
Allow me to share my experiences at the Department of Public Works since being appointed Minister at the end of 2011. It is here that I have come to realize that pervasive levels of corruption, tenderpreneurship and the insidious relationship between business and politics – and the counter-revolutionary threats that these pose to our struggle for social justice. This poses one of our greatest practical and reputational risks.
Indeed the enemies of the Tri-partite Alliance and the NDR have focused on this weakness and made it their rallying point. We appear extremely vulnerable when it comes to the public perception of how decisively – or not – we deal with perceived or real instances of corruption in the public sector. Never mind that the bulk of real corruption, in multi-billion rand terms, is taking place in the private corporate sector. Here I am reminded of Franz Fanon’s clinical analysis of the “Pitfalls of National Consciousness” in which he systematically exposes the weaknesses and seduction of the political elite in the post-colonial states in Africa allowing themselves to be co-opted.
In the Summit there was general consensus on the need to combat fraud and corruption and the other practices that weaken our movement. Look at what we said in the Summit Declaration. We condemned:
- crass displays of wealth and arrogance, and
- the manipulation of membership through gatekeeping and the use of money to advance individual ambitions and factions based on patronage and nepotism. This behaviour, we said, is also the entry-point for corporate capture and private business interests outside of our formations to undermine organisational processes.
- The Summit resolved that these deviations must be dealt with firmly and without fear or favour. Those guilty of funding factions and those guilty of accepting money for these purposes must be exposed.
- Internal disciplinary processes must be pursued speedily and consistently.
- Where money intended for our organisations is diverted into private pockets, civil and criminal cases must be pursued.
- Those found guilty in court must be placed on the Registry of National Treasury which makes them ineligible for being awarded public tenders.
We concluded: Let us remind ourselves that leadership of society must be earned through exemplary conduct and adhering to revolutionary morality.
The objective of combatting fraud and corruption is also reflected in the ANC Strategy towards the 2016 Local Government Elections. Our branches are instructed to undertake a performance assessment of current councillors and municipalities during July – before candidate nomination – in order to remove corrupt and incompetent representatives. It is therefore imperative that – at every level of the Alliance – we support and empower honest cadres to carry out this mandate.
Pushing back against corruption
To return to my own experience: so serious were the challenges of fraud and corruption in Public Works, that we took the decision to establish a specific branch – Governance, Risk and Compliance – to lead the fight back against corruption. We have made progress along the following lines:
- Investigating and prosecuting cases of fraud and corruption. This has resulted in a number of internal disciplinary processes, dismissals and criminal and civil cases;
- A systematic Risk Analysis of the department has been undertaken to identify areas of risk;
- A fraud awareness campaign is under way to conscientise and educate employees; and
- Most importantly a systematic overhaul of procurement processes was undertaken – with the support of the National Procurement Officer of National Treasury – to implement the necessary controls to prevent fraud and corruption at source.
The point I am making is that it is possible to take on the wrong-doers and to radically reduce the opportunities for fraud and corruption.
Lack of decisiveness in dealing with cases of fraud and corruption:
The ANC, in its various congresses and forums, has made several policy pronouncements and adopted resolutions on fighting corruption and dealing with members who may be involved in fraud. But our actions, as some prominent cases spectacularly demonstrate, often portray a lack of resoluteness and firmness, thus creating an impression that we are weak or we are accomplices in these matters. Again our enemies are extracting maximum political mileage from these “own goals,” and as we go from election to election we look more and more vulnerable and defensive.
Indeed the ANC had taken a resolution that comrades should voluntarily leave their positions while investigations or cases against them are being pursued. In the main, we seem to have ignored this resolution, with the result that organisation and institutions have been brought into disrepute and weakened. Yes it is true that we should presume innocence until proven otherwise, but surely it should be possible for comrades to take leave, or be made to take leave, while court processes are underway – especially when these cases impact on their work and the image of the government. On being given a clean bill of health or proven innocent, then comrades can resume their duties.
Even when we finally intervene, the opposition forces take credit for having been responsible for our eventual, if delayed, reaction. These perceptions, cumulatively, may become internalized in the collective psyche of our nation – unless we fundamentally change our approach and strategy on these matters. This too, has given a bad name to a well-intentioned strategic cadre deployment which has now been interpreted as some kind of patronage-client network. Comrades, it is necessary to correct these cancerous weaknesses in our system. If we don’t, we open ourselves to the risk of being engulfed by counter-revolutionary tendencies from the right and from the pseudo-left.
Comrades, corruption is killing us:
- It sets comrades against each other
- It demoralises honest cadres and officials
- It is the common denominator across labour unions experiencing internal divisions – a phenomenon we have called ‘business unionism’. Comrades, if you are an elected leader, in the unions, or in other structures, or a public servant – step away from those tenders. You have no business being involved in business.
As part of our preparations for local elections in 2016, as the ANC, we have to conduct a comprehensive audit of the performance of our representatives – local councillors. It is about service delivery, but it is also about identifying fraud and corruption and taking the necessary action to remove cadres who do not measure up to the standards of revolutionary morality that we set for ourselves.
Cde Thulas Nxesi is the Deputy Chairperson of the SACP, Member of the ANC NEC and Minister of Public Works