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SACC AND HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS MEET PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA  AND GOVERNMENT DELEGATION ON COVID-19 CORRUPTION

SACC AND HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS MEET PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA AND GOVERNMENT DELEGATION ON COVID-19 CORRUPTION

JOHANNESBURG: On Friday September 11, the collective of organisations that had made a moral call against Covid-19 corruption, met a delegation of the Government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The group of six organisations is made up of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Foundation for Human Rights, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the South African Council of Churches.

The group, which had together made a moral call on August 7, for public vigilance against corruption, and demanded transparency, accountability and good governance, took their call to President Ramaphosa and his Government through the presentation appended herewith. This meeting follows one with the national officials of the ANC at their request on the same issues on August 17, 2020.

Emphasising their call for transparent and accountable government, the group laid out several proposals that would make for a social contract between government and our people based on corrective measures to rebuild trust. The delegation was well received by Government, and President Ramaphosa said it was an historic meeting, “to meet and focus on this one matter” of corruption. He identified corruption as one of four epidemics confronting South Africa – gender based violence and femicide, poverty and inequality, Covid-19, and corruption.

Recognising fully, that the people ant transparency and consequences for wrongdoing, he pledged commitment for immediate, medium term and long term actions; and indicated a desire for a structured way of working together with civil society to address these challenges.

Names of organisations and persons to respond to media queries:

• SACC – Moagisi Sibanda – 082 295 1581
• Ahmed Kathrada Foundation – Neeshan Balton – 082 373 1143
• CASAC – Lawson Naidoo – 073 158 5736
• Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation – Roger Friedman – 079 896 6899
• Foundation for Human Rights – lsibiya@fhr.org.za
• Nelson Mandela Foundation – Luzuko Koti – 082 994 0349

Presentation to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Government Delegation
SACC & Foundations Delegations on COVID-19 Corruption
September 11, 2020

Mr President, we thank you for affording us the opportunity to engage with representatives of our Government on the crippling issue that is not only hampering national efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, but also eating away at the moral fibre of our society. We welcome this opportunity to listen to what you plan to do to tackle Covid-19 corruption, and what civil society can offer to strengthen this response. We will make some specific proposals in this regard to build upon the commitments you have already made.

The groups represented here today – the South African Council of Churches, the Mandela, Kathrada and Tutu Foundations, as well as the Foundation for Human Rights and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution – issued a Moral Call on 7 August 2020 to the people of this country, urging them to demand greater transparency, accountability and good governance, underpinned by ethical leadership.

We demand that the law enforcement agencies investigate, recoup the money and prosecute those in the public and private sector involved in Covid-19 corruption. We want to see Covid-19 looters in orange overalls!

We noted the destruction of the State’s capacity to effectively conduct emergency procurement processes, especially when it is delegated to provincial and municipal officials. The weaknesses of this system coupled with the deeply ingrained patronage networks of civil servants and politically connected individuals and enterprises provided opportunities for the rampant looting of public resources. Their reprehensible conduct placed lives in danger, prompting the Director General of the World Health Organisation to declare such behaviour tantamount to murder. We welcome the President’s endorsement of this view. There have indeed been reports of deaths of healthcare personnel due to defective and inadequate PPE equipment, which only highlights the devastating consequences of this unconscionable conduct.

Our call, as reflected in the statement we issued, speaks to a deep and countrywide outrage and anger at the high levels of corruption being reported variously in the media and on the ground in communities. We note that a broad range of civil society organisations have launched the #OrangeMaskFridays campaign to demand the prosecution of those engaged in looting of Covid-19 funds and other acts of corruption. Some of these organisations have conducted extensive research on measures to combat corruption and would be eager to share their outcomes with Government.

At the heart of the anger and outrage is the collapse of the social contract between the government and the people in the State as embodied in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Such a contract is bound by trust and accountability.

A factor that militates against that trust is the continuous and embedded practice by the governing party and its leadership, to treat State assets and institutions as freely available to the party and its leaders to use at will.

The recent use of an aircraft to Zimbabwe, courtesy of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, is symptomatic of this tendency. It is fundamentally at odds with your call, Mr President, for ethical and responsible governance. The party and government officials at all levels, cannot continue to use State resources for personal or party purposes.

That, Mr President, is a corrupt practice; as Auditor General Kimi Makwetu said this week in his discussion of corruption at an SACC webinar: “Public money does not have value unless it is spent on things for which it was intended.” Our campaign against corruption in our society is invoked by COVID-19 corruption, but it is set to persuade South Africa away from corruption as defining our national character. It must begin with the example of those in government, and for them to thus cultivate the trust that makes for a living social contract.

In this regard, we are calling on all South Africans to make their voices heard in demanding government accountability. Chapter 10 of the Constitution, expressed in the 1997 Batho Pele principles of the Mandela government, calls for governance with openness and transparency, value for money, and for services to be provided “impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias”.

In the furtherance of the constitutional imperative and the moral premises on which it is based, we wish to emphasise THREE FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES:
1. Transparency: We welcome steps that have been taken by National Treasury and provincial governments to open their books on Covid-19 procurement and we call for this to be regularised; but it should not only publish the details of the contracts and names of the entities concerned, but it should include details of their directors and shareholders. Applying such transparency immediately to COVID-19 procurement processes as a start, will lay a foundation for future, sustainable best practice. In particular we demand:
· that budgets for all Covid-19 related contracts at all levels of government are made public, along with the unit prices paid per item/ for services; and,
· that government makes public its spending of the R500 billion stimulus package, and call on the Solidarity Fund to do likewise. Practical measures should be put in place to ensure all further expenditure of these funds, as well as the IMF loan, is made public in real-time.

2. Accountability: Mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that those who have fallen foul of the law and procurement guidelines are identified and appropriate, speedy action is taken against them. For far too long we have seen drawn out and ineffective disciplinary and legal processes against miscreants, leading to a culture of impunity. Some evade liability by resigning before action can be taken against them. Even where people are found guilty, they often re-emerge in other structures of the state, undermining its integrity. In this context we demand:
· that government recoups all funds lost through irregular and corrupt Covid-19 contracts; and,
· that those implicated in corrupt activities are investigated and prosecuted. We want to see the corrupt in jail!

3. A new social contract: We call for a new social contract between the government and the people who elected them.
The governing party and all political parties in South Africa must renew a covenant based on a public commitment to accountability, responsiveness and openness. Public trust cannot be taken for granted purely on the basis of electoral outcomes; our Constitution behoves us to engender a participatory democracy in which the people continuously guide the hands of their elected representatives. It is through such mechanisms that public trust is built and sustained, and an ethical state harnessed. Meaningful, ongoing engagement lies at the heart of this. Here our demands are:
· Name and shame the corrupt, and support and strengthen honest public servants and whistleblowers; and,
· Call for government to ensure that all public representatives and political party executive committee members, and their immediate families, as well as all civil servants not be allowed to conduct business with the State.

Mr President, we acknowledge the various measures that your government has announced in recent days to tackle the litany of Covid-19 related tender scams. You have authorised the Special Investigating Unit to scrutinise all contracts concluded, established a ‘Fusion Centre’ comprising several law enforcement agencies to investigate acts of corruption, and Treasury has begun making procurement information publicly available. You also stated in Parliament on 27 August that government is in the process of establishing special ‘Covid-19’ courts to expedite the hearing of cases.

We wish to stress that strict timeframes should be attached to these interventions, with regular reporting to Parliament and the public.

Whilst we welcome these initiatives, we wish to place before you several other issues that we believe are deserving of the urgent attention of your government. Amongst these are some interventions that can and must be implemented in the short term, even though we acknowledge that you have said, Mr President, that some strategies will take time to put in place.

1. Strengthening rules and guidelines on conflicts of interest for elected representatives and public servants. This must include mandatory and regular lifestyle audits conducted by an independent agency. Such guidelines should also extend to senior officials in political parties at various levels of party leadership;

2. Promulgating legislation to prohibit elected representatives and politically exposed persons from doing business with the State. While the Public Administration Management Act and the Financial Intelligence Centre Act deal with these issues, it does need to be clarified and strengthened;

3. Government should publish and regularly update a register on individuals and companies (including directors) that have been found guilty of corruption and related offences, so that such people are barred from doing business with the state;

4. Fundamental reform of the public service to entrench a truly professional administration as envisaged in the National Development Plan (NDP);

5. Reform of the state procurement system to enhance transparency and accountability, including an easily accessible database of all contracts entered into. With the focus on infrastructure projects to kickstart the economy, we would urge that government draws upon the CoST / Infrastructure Transparency Initiative framework, to implement measures to reduce mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and poor quality infrastructure;

6. Whilst access to information is constitutionally guaranteed in Section 32 of the Constitution, information held by the state is not readily and proactively available. By insisting that formal applications for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) are made, many people are frustrated in their attempts to acquire information that may impact on their other constitutionally protected rights. PAIA is being used by public servants to stifle rather than promote access to information. Government has made a commitment to the global Open Government Partnership but this has yet to translate into practice within state organs;

7. We also highlight the fact that the Protection of State Information Act has been referred back to Parliament by the President. A constitutionally compliant Act must be expedited so that State information does not remain governed by apartheid-era legislation;

8. Tying into the access to State information is the need for improved record-keeping. Those who are corrupt thrive in the absence of accurate, reliable, authentic and comprehensive records. The state structure responsible for overseeing and auditing this record-keeping function, the National Archives, has been rendered toothless and paralysed in face of the challenge. No wonder there is so little forensic evidence available for use in corruption investigations. Government has to address this as a matter of urgency;

9. Reform of whistle-blower protection beyond the employer-employee relationship, and ensuring that whistle-blowers are not marginalised and victimised. Far too often it is the whistleblower rather than the implicated officials that pays the price for speaking out;

10. Civil society organisations played a key role during the consideration and passing of the Political Party Funding Act, to which the President assented in January 2019, but is yet to be promulgated. Given the nexus between money and politics, this is a matter that must be prioritised so that the Electoral Commission can operationalise the disclosure of private funding of political parties;

11. The establishment of a dedicated, independent anti-corruption agency – this must go beyond the resuscitation of a ‘Scorpions-like agency’ that combines investigations and prosecutions. Its mandate must include responsibility for prevention strategies, including training of public servants, and public education on reporting and tackling corruption. Such an agency must be properly resourced through an appropriation directly from Parliament.

The organisations represented here today are part of a much larger civil society sector, who share our concerns and have focused on strategies to tackle corruption. Together, we all stand ready to assist government in developing these measures that are necessary to turn the tide against corruption and maladministration, and to build a state that reflects the vision of the Constitution. More detailed proposals on the issues canvassed above can be made available in due course. We hope that this meeting marks the beginning of a sustainable relationship with government, that harnesses the skills and expertise that the civil society sector possesses to strengthen the fight against corruption and maladministration.

Thank you.

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