By Moses Magadza
Windhoek — Members of Parliament who belong to the Standing Committee on Democratisation, Governance and Human Rights of the SADC Parliamentary Forum are boosting their understanding of corruption as they seek to eradicate the scourge.
The lawmakers last week invited Mr Titus Gwemende, Southern Africa Regional Lead on Natural Resources at Oxfam International, to throw light on the various forms of corruption within the SADC Region as well as what is driving it, when their Committee met virtually.
Gwemende outlined four different dimensions of corruption with different impacts on a country’s economy: petty theft, grand theft, speed money and access money.
He said money from corruption of any form works and harms like steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.
“In the long term steroids are harmful because they can cause a heart attack. Yet when you use them, they seem fine; they build muscle and you can win the admiration of peers,” he said.
The MPs were informed that petty theft “refers to acts of stealing, misuse of public funds, or extortion among street-level bureaucrats”. He gave the example of people bribing law-enforcement agents to avoid being fined for minor infringements like littering.
“There is nothing petty about petty crime if one calculates it over time. A series of five dollar notes can add up to hundreds of millions.
He described grand theft as “embezzlement or misappropriation of large sums of public monies by political elites who control state finances”.
Turning to speed money, Gwemende explained that it involves petty bribes that businesses or citizens offer to grease the palms of bureaucrats to “get around hurdles or speed things up” in countries in which red tape thwarts processes.
He explained that access money involves “high-stakes rewards extended by business actors to powerful officials, not just for speed, but to access exclusive, valuable privileges”.
He gave the example of cabinet ministers and legislators being targeted by powerful companies to facilitate preferential award of construction tenders.
Gwemende noted that the lack of performance-based assessment systems for cabinet ministers in many African countries made it difficult to hold such officials to account, with some politically connected people getting way with corruption and looting of public funds.
He observed that whereas in some countries the proceeds of corruption were recycled in those countries, the bane of Africa was that such funds were spirited elsewhere through illicit financial flows.
With many economies in Africa driven by extractive industries and blighted by huge inequalities, Gwemende said corruption could easily take root.
“In the long term, experts highlight that inequality may become deeply ingrained in government systems and further erode the rule of law. Rising wealth inequality is also seen by many experts as a root cause for low levels of trust in governments,” he said.
He suggested that the MPs to familiarise themselves with the intricacies of the Fourth Industrialisation Revolution which has come with “new technologies like Cryptocurrencies and Artificial Intelligence which provide new routes to engage in corrupt behaviour” when the capacity to deal with technology-based corruption is low, especially in Africa.
He said: “The vast amount of personal data stored online can be abused if exposed to the wrong people, and illicit financial flows are expected to grow, facilitated by ICT networks. Ultimately, new technologies will always be used both with corrupt intentions and by those fighting them. Anti-corruption organisations must keep learning and adapting if they want to use these technologies for their purposes effectively.”
Gwemende outlined other challenges that African countries face and which can fan corruption if left unchecked. They include state capture, the proliferation of patronage networks, opaque funding of political parties, land and extractive industries corruption, as well as manipulation of development assistance.
He recommended the regulation of funding of political campaigns to avoid capture of political systems and processes.
“Undisclosed political funding puts political parties and actors at risk of capture as secret funders will require a ‘payback’ once their funded candidates get into power,” he said.
On the role of parliaments in ending corruption, Gwemende hinted that it would be desirable and effective if MPs and parliaments were to approach the phenomenon with clean hands.
“If parliaments as the last bastions against corruption are themselves affected by it, the battle may well be lost. Resist capture of Parliament itself. Ensure that state institutions — including parliaments — are so transparent and accountable as to be able to withstand corruption or permit its rapid exposure,” he said.
He advocated for the adoption of regional and global instruments that include United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC); African Union Convention Against Corruption (AUCAC); Africa Mining Vision (AMV); SADC Regional Mining Vision (SADC-RMV); and the SADC Protocol Against Corruption.
The Committee recommended inter alia that SADC parliamentarians debate the economic development models existing in their countries and the region to appreciate how they contribute or otherwise to corruption; take the lead in fighting corruption through implementing and enforcing their own codes of conduct; and adopt clear and fair legislation, including in efficient public supervision, as regards the funding of political parties and election campaigns.
The proper declaration of sources of income and of potential conflicts of interest, protection of whistle blowers, law reforms and realignment as well as reporting of implementation of anticorruption legislation and programmes were stressed.
Also underscored was the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration involving the judiciary, media, parliament, prosecuting bodies, police, anti-corruption agencies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in fighting corruption including instituting clear reporting mechanisms and the recovery of assets.
Additionally, the Committee recommended that parliaments engage and mobilise their constituencies on raising awareness on existing anticorruption instruments at national and regional levels to build a critical mass of informed citizens that can demand implementation of good governance practices to help curb corruption.