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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s, address to the National Anti-Corruption Forum Summit, Sandton

8 December 2011

Thank you very much for your invitation to address this important Summit on Recommitting and Intensifying Collective Action to fight Corruption.

COSATU, alongside other organisations, has taken a keen interest in this battle against graft. We have done so for the simple reason that corruption is a programme of the elite in society to steal from the poor.

Corruption has become endemic in South Africa. It has become a matter of life and death, literally and metaphorically. In parts of South Africa today, people are being intimidated or even killed for exposing and preventing corruption. Corruption is a threat to a better life for all.

The flood of corruption scandals and the spread of the culture of greed and self-enrichment are threatening to unravel the fabric of society and to undermine all the great progress we have made.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has given the City Press an insight into the extent of the problem. It currently has almost 1 000 individual investigations under way. Almost 600 of these relate to procurement, and involve contracts worth more than R9 billion. Alongside this, the unit is investigating 360 conflicts of interest on contracts, valued at R3.5 billion.

The SIU’s investigations indicate that up to 20% of government’s current procurement budget is lost to corruption – and therefore lost to delivery.

These findings confirm the report of the Auditor General to Parliament in August 2009 on the performance audit of entities, which revealed 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 and that in most cases employees did not have approval to perform other remunerative work.

The audit indicated that the level of accumulation and misappropriation of state resources had reached alarming proportions. Departments were not enforcing the laws, and officials were exploiting gaps in the laws to win government tenders. It painted a bleak picture of public servants who are supposed to be caring for the public, but are in fact promoting their own narrow financial interests.

We face the nightmare future of a South Africa up for auction to the highest bidder, a society where no-one will be able to do business with the state without going through corrupt gatekeepers, who demand bribes and who unless are stopped may systematically use their power to control large areas of the economy.

Factions are formed not around different ideologies or political views, but access to government power that brings its leaders closer to state tenders. Honest and talented individuals who cannot play this dirty game of ‘survival of the fittest’ get sidelined and fall by the way side, as the slate politics, based on ‘winner takes all’ mentality, imposes the worst, inefficient and corrupt individuals on us. This leads to mediocrity and chaos.

Only this week, national government was forced to intervene and take over 5 departments in Limpopo, taking over the running of the health department in Gauteng and, the Department and Roads and Transport in Free State. The Gauteng health department once boasted of being the most effective in the whole country. But today when you go to some of the hospitals you are greeted by a stench, you are likely to get sicker in a hospital than outside. That is what factions do to the people.

In COSATU we long reached a consensus amongst ourselves that as long the current economic system – capitalism is in place, with its ‘me first’ mentality, we will find it difficult to root out corruption. I know I will not get that consensus on this in this conference. But these ideological differences need to be thrashed out among ourselves because we know that in this battle there is a real situation that one group of capitalists will cry “corruption-foul” against another, with an intention not to dismantle the real problem, but to position itself in line for financial gain.

Capitalism 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 slogans represent an important difference in approach to the struggle against corruption.

It is the culture of “me first”, “accumulate, accumulate”, that makes us to tolerate that one person will earn R627 million in one year whilst almost 60% of workers earn less than R2500, 34% earn less than R1000 and 15% earn less than R500 a month. The top 20 paid directors of the JSE listed companies earn 1728 times more than the average worker salary. The ideology of capitalism is that everyone is capable of “going up”, and so some among us tolerate capital failures with the hope that one day we will also make it. The ideology of capitalism has made some people to see normality in abnormality, to be impervious to blatant social and economic injustice. The contrast in conditions of life in Alexandra and Sandton has now been internalized into a normal human condition.

It is this death of consciousness and conscience that makes us to tolerate a situation where a small minority enjoys the best health care facilities, whilst the majority have to contend with overcrowded, under-staffed and under-resourced public hospitals where they die en masse from preventable diseases. Even when government introduces the NHI and a ten-point programme to fix this health crisis some show the middle fingerer to these efforts.

When we called for the state pharmaceutical company to be established, so that our country can produce affordable medicines, we were met with a torrent of anti-state intervention attacks. Yet, big corporations were found to inflate prices of medicines, making it impossible for the democratic government to roll out services to as many people as possible. The ANC has now, to our delight, committed itself to a state pharmaceutical company, which we hope will deal a major blow to the corporate corruption that is crippling our health system.

It is the death of social and political consciousness and conscience that makes us not to roll up our sleeves and do something about the crisis in the education system. Some of our children learn in de-humanising conditions, schools without toilets, no fencing, no libraries, mud schools, no laboratories, no windows, over-crowded classes, etc.

Nearly two thirds of our children leave the education system without any skills and where 72% of all matric pass rates are accounted for by only 11% of the schools. Today 60% of those unemployed have no secondary education. It is they who roam the streets without any hope of getting employed.

The ‘me first’ culture is killing the human solidarity and social consciousness of many, including those who led the very struggle for the emancipation of our people. This new culture has engulfed our cadres and in the process, is threatening one of the finest traditions of our liberation movement – selflessness, honesty and integrity. Next year in January the 8th, we will be celebrating 100 years of these traditions.

Yet, as we speak, we are facing for the first time in the history of our struggle, the biggest threat to these traditions. The ‘me first’ mentality and ‘to hell with the majority and their poverty and unemployment’ is a single biggest reason why 17 years after our democracy South Africa has not made tremendous progress to transform the apartheid economy and industrialise.

The ‘me first to hell with everyone else’ mentality has combined with neo-liberalism to sentence millions to perpetual inequalities in education, health, access to basic services, etc.

It is this don’t care attitude that this conference and all other initiatives must root out or face a real possibility that we become a predator state with the laws of the jungle applying leading to the survival of the fittest.

Secondly we cannot defeat corruption and abuse of power when we have weak organisations and institutions. We need a mixture of a strong ANC that is active in and outside of the state, a strong, ideologically alert and independent COSATU – a rock solid trade union movement that is buttressed by equally strong, pro-working class civil society, a robust and pro-poor religious sector, a strong and transformative judiciary, a diversified and robust media that always defends the poor in the face of the rich, the weak in the face of the strong, and consistently advocates for an end to social and economic injustice, and a strong democratic state that advances the interests of the poor. It is the existence of all these working in complementary ways that we stand a chance to reverse the catastrophe in our hands.

COSATU, which by no means is as strong as it should be, has at least taken steps to give its members and the public a stronger voice in the battle against corruption, by launching Corruption Watch, which will provide our members and all South Africans with a safe haven to report cases of corruption.

Its principal mechanism for gathering information will be an interactive web site which will be accessible both to those who have access to the internet and those who can send SMSs to the website. It will also receive reports of corruption at its office and through its telephones. Citizens may also approach their organisations and ask them to submit information to CW.

Corruption Watch is interested in information about all forms of corruption, both the ‘petty’ corruption that so many people encounter in their daily lives: the corrupt police officer, immigration or housing official. And it will also look into serious corruption: the firm that pays a bribe to receive a contract from the state; the official who accepts the bribe; the firm that takes money in exchange for providing stipulated goods or services and that doesn’t provide the good or service; the doctor who takes a salary from the public sector and spends the time that the taxpayer has paid him for on his own private practice; the teacher who doesn’t turn up for work and the firm that doesn’t provide the textbooks in time.

There will be security for those who fear being identified and CW will gather together this information and analyse it in order to identify patterns and hot spots of corruption that will then be publicised on its website and through the mainstream media. That information will be handed to civil society organisations that are directly affected and able to confront the sources of corruption.

CW will also engage in litigation to force both public and private sector institutions to hand over information to which the public is entitled, and, where appropriate, it will consider suing corrupt persons whose actions can be shown to have damaged the interests of other communities and individuals.

Above all, Corruption Watch will hold accountable those people and institutions, in the public or private sectors, who are entrusted with providing, using and distributing, public resources. While it is important to fight corruption by using the powers of the police, prosecutors and the courts, it is as important to fight it by using the power of the public, who, after all are the owners of these resources.

Corruption Watch will be launched on the 26th January. Your organisations and the media will be informed of the launch and we urge you to help CW by providing it with information, and to use CW by deploying its services in your fight against corruption.

This is the mix of strong organisations on the ground who are themselves not corrupted who can campaign and expose the corrupt elements in our society. Frankly speaking this mix is not as strong as it should be today. As long those in public office and in the big corporate offices fear nothing corruption will continue to thrive!

Thirdly as long as there is that overlap between business and political office corruption will strive and get out of hand. Even if public officials who also run businesses do not gain directly from government tenders, the danger always exists that in taking decisions and in formulating policy, they will be guided by the impact this will have on their businesses rather than the broader public interest. In fact, and this is where our ideological differences matter, even if public servants are not engaged in business, as long as they formulate policies that harm the interests of the poor they in our view are corrupt. For corporations to influence, lobby, and threaten the democratic government to adopt or not adopt policies, so as to profit at the expense of the majority, that too is corruption.

In addition COSATU has urged that we must eliminate any possibility of a conflict of interest between leadership and business. We have said that if in case a political and or trade union leader has a family in business – the family must not be allowed to do business with both government and trade unions.

Fourthly there are a number of steps already agreed which will remain a pipe dream until we build a strong organisation underpinned by the values that have guaranteed the ANC its first 100 years – selflessness – integrity and honesty. Here is what has been agreed already but won’t happen until we succeed building our movement at all levels in particular at the grass roots.

The ANC 52nd conference held in Polokwane in 2007 as well as the manifesto for 2009 said we “must develop a framework on post-tenure rules, including a cooling-off period during which public representatives and senior officials will be prevented from accepting appointment to a board, employment or any other substantial benefit from a private sector organisation that has benefitted from a contract, tender or partnership agreement with the public service/state in a process that the official has participated in.”

This is a particular problem, which we have called ‘throwing the javelin’. The Department of public service has developed guidelines for a cooling-off period of one year after a public servant leaves the public service before they can have an interest in businesses, which they formerly dealt with, but we believe it should be five years. We wish that we could enforce even the weak one-year period.

“Government,” said the manifesto, “will step up measures to ensure politicians do not tamper with the adjudication of tenders; the process of the tendering system is transparent; as well as ensuring much stronger accountability of public servants involved in the tendering process.” This has not happened!

The former Minister of Public Service was instructed to review the ministerial handbook so that it is underpinned by the ethos and the culture of selflessness that we have referred to countless already. He failed to do this. Had this happened we would have been saved from reading how ministers now refuse to answer questions about their hotel stays for ‘security reasons’.

We welcome the Anti-Corruption Task Team, established by President Jacob Zuma to fast-track high-priority corruption investigations and prosecutions, and to ensure full cooperation across law enforcement entities, and the Multi-Agency Working Group set up by the Treasury to deal with irregularities in government procurement systems, focusing on closing systems’ gaps as well as detecting and investigating irregularities.

We are happy that the Receiver of Revenue is conducting targeted lifestyle audits on those suspected of dodging their tax responsibilities. These are valuable weapons to help us identify, prosecute and punish those involved in corruption, but also to exonerate the innocent majority. COSATU leaders have already agreed to undergo lifestyle audits to encourage better cooperation from all. We reiterate our call that all political and business leaders must agree to conduct a life style audit as part of a deliberate campaign to assure the public that the majority can explain their bank balances and wealth.

If one day we were to wake up in a new society where just these steps are rigorously taken forward without any fear and favour and without any regard to factions, then South Africa will be a better place.

We face another potential problem in implementing the government’s own commitments to fight corruption in its Protection of State Information Bill, which, unless amended to protect whistle-blowers, will make it far easier for corrupt public officials to hide the evidence by classifying it as ‘secret’. It could lead to the whistle-blower being sentenced to 15 years in jail for revealing a classified, document while the guilty official remains free!

COSATU has welcomed the arrest of Richard Kawie, and businessman Sam Buthelezi, in connection the alleged misappropriation of R100-million of clothing workers` pension funds by Canyon Springs and has urged SACTWU to ensure every cent stolen and or misused is returned back to SACTWU members. Anyone found guilty of stealing the workers’ pension money must be arrested and punished severely.

Lastly let us emphasize again 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 is destroying 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.

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. We must eradicate this cancer before it is too late.

Thank you for listenin