The losing battle against corruption: Now more than ever we need an integrity commission

The devastating impact of many years of corruption have left an indelible mark on the people of South Africa, particularly the most vulnerable communities, who rely on the State for access to the most basic social services, as per our Constitution.

According to IFP Chief Whip, Narend Singh, “Corruption is, in effect, taking food from the mouths of the poorest of the poor. All government anti-corruption structures – despite countless promises – are slow to react, inept, under-capacitated and perhaps even partisan and compromised, as many cases of corruption are alleged to involve senior officials in government.”

This is why the IFP is calling, yet again, for the establishment of an independent, well-resourced Chapter 9 Institution, to be known as the Integrity Commission. “This Commission should focus specifically on the investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption in the public service,” says Singh. “This Commission is essential, especially now, as the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the release of large-scale government funding, and emergency procurement procedures.”

Unfortunately, the NPA is currently punching below its weight.

On 30 June 2020, at a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, the NDPP reportedly shared her views as to why South Africa is losing the battle against corruption. The sheer volume of work, coupled with serious capacity constraints within the NPA, continue to present major obstacles in the fight for justice.

This view instils very little confidence in our law enforcement agencies. Undeniably, it also widens the scope for corruption – something that South Africa, on the brink of economic collapse, can ill-afford.

Admittedly, NDPP Batohi was tasked with a near-impossible mandate: to restore public confidence in an institution torn apart by years of political interference and dysfunctionality. And, despite the public’s desperate hunger for accountability and the prosecution of high-level political figures and others guilty of complex commercial crimes, the NPA’s turn-around will not be swift. It could take years to rebuild what was lost in skills and re-unite division within the institution itself.

The NPA’s latest Annual Report (2018/19) emphasised that the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, mandated to deal with serious, complex and organised commercial crimes, had a vacancy rate of 20.92% and operated “with the lowest number of prosecutors since 2010”. Although the Minister of Finance announced in his February 2020 Budget Speech that the NPA, the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks would get an additional R2.4 billion, the need for critical skills was again emphasised in the NPA’s Annual Performance Plan 2020-21, presented to Parliament on 22 May 2020. The Plan stressed that the NPA had “to invest in development/sourcing of critical skills as a matter of urgency”. Further, there is an urgent need to “have access to forensic investigation capacity”.

The Investigative Directorate, established by the President in April 2019 under the NPA, and mandated to investigate serious and complex corruption cases, also appears to be struggling with capacity constraints. At a 4 March 2020 meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, on the status of the Directorate, the procurement of commercial and cyber forensic expert services was emphasised as a key challenge, in addition to staffing constraints.

The lack of forensic investigative skills, coupled with years of dysfunctionality within the NPA, will not be solved overnight.

The proposed Integrity Commission could help to stem the tide of corruption. In order to do this, it would need to be independent from the NPA, which the IFP believes is critical. As a Chapter 9 institution, its budget will not be subject to the discretion of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The investigations of such an institution would therefore arguably be immune to political and institutional influence.

The IFP has consistently attempted to place the creation of such an institution on the State’s agenda. On 18 June 2020, in reply to a supplementary oral question posed by the IFP, the President held that there were sufficient law enforcement agencies to deal with corruption, and that institutions such as the Auditor-General would be taking additional measures including proactive auditing. The State is further apparently looking at means to strengthen investigations and mechanisms in the criminal justice system, especially to recover “ill-gotten proceeds”. The President concluded that the establishment of a “new independent Chapter 9 institution to focus on grand corruption may not be necessary at this stage”.

This answer, however, gives no recognition to the serious institutional and capacity restraints that these enforcement agencies are currently facing. Further, the public is yet to see how the adjusted Budget will impact the functionality of these agencies.

The IFP will continue to campaign for the establishment of an independent Integrity Commission as this pandemic – coupled with weak checks-and-balances – provides ample opportunity for corruption and fraud, at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.

*First published in The Mercury on 8 July 2020

Contact:
Hon. Narend Singh, MP
Chief Whip, IFP
083 788 5954