Combating Corruption in government

  1. Understanding corruption
  2. Tackling corruption and unethical behaviour – governments anti-corruption strategy
  3. Ethical behaviour in the workplace

  1. Understanding corruptionCorruption has a devastating effect on poor people - especially corruption in the public service. Corruption costs the government millions every year, money that could have been spent on delivering services. Corruption also means that some people get an unfair advantage because they can afford to bribe officials to do them special favours. Where resources are scarce and many people need those resources, corruption can often set in.Here are a few definitions and examples of different forms of corruption:
    • Bribery: Taking money to give people preferential treatment. Example: officials accepting bribes to move people up on the housing waiting list.
    • Embezzlement: Stealing money or resources that are supposed to be under your control. Example: using public money to buy personal goods like a car/airline ticket.
    • Fraud: Making false claims for benefits. Example: applying for false social grants and pocketing the money. 
    • Extortion: When a public official forces someone to give them benefits in exchange for acting/ not acting in a particular way. Example: police officers taking money from criminals to lose their case evidence.
    • Abuse of power: Using one’s power or position of authority to improperly benefit or discriminate against another person. Example: a teacher asks for sexual favours in return for passing a student.
    • Abuse of privileged information: Using information you have access to because of your job to benefit someone who can make money from it. Example: you know government wants some vacant land for a new housing development and you tell a friend to buy the land so that they can sell it at a huge profit.
    • Favouritism: Unfairly providing services or resources to friends. Example: a head of department makes sure that all her friends in the department go overseas with her on official trips.
    • Nepotism: Giving jobs or services unfairly to family members. Example: giving a contract for training to a company owned by your spouse without going through the proper procurement procedures.
    All the above actions are illegal in South Africa. They are covered by a law called the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004 (the Corruption Act). Public servants are not allowed to accept anything from a member of the public that is meant to make them favour that person above others.No property of the state may be misused or used for the benefit of someone not entitled to it. It is also illegal to offer anything to a public servant that is meant to influence the way they perform their duties.
  2. Tackling corruption and unethical behaviour

Anti-corruption strategy

Government has developed an Anti-Corruption Strategy that tries to deal with corruption in a holistic way. This includes, amongst others:

  1. Stronger rules and procedures to stop nepotism, favouritism and the awarding of contracts to people who do not deserve it.
  2. A toll-free anti-corruption hotline (0800 701 701) where incidents of corruption can be reported anonymously 
  3. Financial audits
  4. Investigating units like the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to root out corruption in the pubic sector
  5. Laws and processes to protect people who report others (‘whistle-blowers’)
  6. Training for all public servants on code of conduct, ethics and corruption
  7. Prosecution of all offenders and blacklisting of people who have been found guilty

Minimum Anti-Corruption Capacity (MACC)

Source: Anti-Corruption Capacity Requirements: DPSA: January 2006

The Cabinet has directed that all departments and organisational components of the Public Service have a MACC in place. This requires all departments to develop an anti-corruption strategy that will address at least the following:

  1. The department’s objectives regarding corruption. For example, sound corporate governance and a zero tolerance policy towards corruption
  2. The corruption risks that need to be addressed
  3. The specific anti-corruption components and functions that need to be established
  4. Who will be responsible for implementation of various functions
  5. Who is responsible for oversight and monitoring of the process

Departmental anti-corruption strategies must be organised around four components:

  1. Prevention of corruption
  2. Detection of corruption
  3. Investigation of corruption
  4. Resolution of corruption

Reporting corruption

There is a special law to protect people who report corruption in their offices. It is called the Protected Disclosures Act (2000), also known as ‘the Whistle-blower’s Act’. It ensures that whistle-blowers cannot be victimised or dismissed for reporting corruption, especially if their managers are involved.

There are many other practices that are a form of corruption, but which may not lead to a jail sentence if you are caught. They will however be dealt with by managers, and may lead to dismissal. These include things like misusing government resources (like cars, copiers and computers); a public servant not doing the work they are paid to do; or behaving badly (like drinking on duty).

Corruption costs the government millions of Rand every year. When public servants do not deliver the services that people are entitled to and that the tax payers pay them for, it’s the same as stealing from the people. Corruption can happen at any level in the public service, and can involve managers, staff, suppliers and the people they serve. The more power and access to resources people have, the higher the risk that they may be tempted into corrupt or unethical behaviour.

Managers are often very high risk because they have to make decisions and they understand the system. Staff who work in front offices, where they directly deliver services or take money from the public, are also high risk. The people they serve may be corrupt and try to pay for special favours. Suppliers and contractors may also be corrupt and try to subvert the proper tender processes or deliver less than they are supposed to.

While every public servant and member of the public has a role to play in watching out for, and reporting corruption, there are special staff dedicated to rooting out corruption. They are people like auditors, security staff and compliance officers.

  1. Ethical behaviour in the workplace

Ethics can be defined as the moral values of human conduct and the rules that govern the way we should behave. Each profession has its own ethics that define the correct way of behaving. For example the fact that doctors should always respect confidentiality is part of medical ethics.

We have dealt with corruption and the ethics involved, but there are many other kinds of ethical behaviour that apply to all workplaces – for example not sexually harassing a colleague and not being rude or abusive to colleagues. Since ethics are about moral behaviour they cover the whole range of our actions at work. The Batho Pele principles and the Constitution guide us about the ethics that are specific to the public service.

Managers have a key role to play in prevention, detection, investigation and the resolution of fraud and corruption. The final responsibility and accountability for fraud and corruption can never be delegated, but line managers can make use of expert advice and help from others such as internal auditors and legal advisers. Managers are also the role models for ethical behaviour and have to deal firmly with unethical behaviours among their staff.

Managers must:

  1. Establish and maintain an ethical culture in their management units
    • Assess the risk of fraud and corruption in their area of work
    • Put in place policies, strategies, processes and procedures to prevent possible fraud and corruption
    • Put the necessary controls in place to ensure compliance with these policies, strategies, processes and procedures

Testing your principles for making moral or making ethical choices

Source: Developing Management Skills: 5th Edition: Whetten and Cameron

The following can serve as standards against which to test any decision or actions you may take in your work or life in general:

  1. Front-page test: Would you be embarrassed if your decision became a story in the local newspaper?
  2. Golden rule test: Would you be willing to be treated in the same manner?
  3. Dignity and liberty test: Are the dignity and liberty of others preserved by your decision or action?
  4. Equal treatment test: Are the rights of all staff no matter their position, race, gender, sexual orientation and religion given full consideration?
  5. Personal gain test: Is the opportunity for personal gain clouding your judgement? Would you make the same decision if the outcome did not benefit you in anyway?
  6. Congruence test: Is the decision or action consistent with your personal principles? Does it violate the spirit of any departmental policies or laws?
  7. Procedural justice test: Can the procedures used to make this decision stand up to scrutiny by those affected?
  8. Cost-benefit test: Does a benefit for some cause unacceptable harm to others? Can the harmful effects be mitigated?
  9. Good night’s sleep test: Whether or not anyone else knows about your action, will you have a good night’s sleep?