South Africans tackle corruption

15 March 2012

South African civil society initiative Corruption Watch received more than 500 complaints from the public in the first month of its existence, with municipalities, traffic cops and the health sector the most frequently complained about.

The strong response reflected “a clear willingness on the part of members of the public to reveal their experiences of corruption and speak out against it,” Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said in a statement on Sunday.

The initiative seeks to facilitate the flow of information and enable the South African public to hold their leaders, in both the public and private sector, accountable.

Corruption Watch will investigate certain of the complaints, while using all the information it receives to identify corruption “hot-spots” in the country.

Members of the public can report cases by visiting, e-mailing, or sending an SMS to 45142 at a cost of R1 per message. Whistle-blowers can choose to remain anonymous.

Giving voice to the public

“Our principle objective is to give voice to the public,” Lewis said. “No government or business leader who looks at our data and at our Facebook page can be left in any doubt as to the level of outrage on the part of ordinary members of the public.”

The organization defines corruption as the abuse of power and public resources – whether at the hands of government or business sector employees and institutions – for personal gain. “Corruption could include the abuse of lottery funds, municipal funds, government pension funds and medical aids, and public donations to charitable bodies.”

Just under half the cases reported so far fell within its mandate, Corruption Watch said, with about 32% concerning industrial relations issues, consumer grievances (especially about banks), misconduct by lawyers, municipal mismanagement, and business-to-business fraud.

‘Serious allegations’

Many of these had been referred to organizations better placed to deal with consumer protection or labour issues.

“The remaining 25% of cases require further assessment as they were not easy to categorise,” the organisation said. “They were service delivery complaints, which may be due to badly managed processes or a result of corrupt behaviour.”

Among the cases Corruption Watch was currently investigating were cases involving “serious allegations of corruption,” Lewis said.

“In two of these, we believe that we have sufficient evidence to refer to the law enforcement authorities or the Public Protector. We will closely monitor progress on the cases and inform the public regularly.”

Report on the health sector

In its first month, Corruption Watch also launched an application with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Gauteng Department of Health for access to the report of an SIU investigation into allegations of fraud, procurement irregularities, and financial mismanagement in the Gauteng Health Department.

The investigation was initiated by a Proclamation in May 2010. However, the report on the investigation was never shared with the public.

The SIU report, said Lewis, was likely to reveal “crucial details about how public officials abused their power and public resources to undermine not only the health system but the general health of ordinary citizens.

“Access to the SIU report will greatly assist the process of discussion of a report into corruption in the health sector which has been commissioned by Corruption Watch and which we expect to release soon.”

In April, Corruption Watch plans to launch its first campaign and release its report into corruption in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department’s traffic policing function. “This will kick off a major campaign aimed at reforming the JMPD and informing the public about their rights and duties in relation to corruption in traffic policing,” the organisation said.

SAinfo reporter