“Our national budget process, for example, ranked second out of 100 countries for its transparency and openness earlier this year.”
In the end, corruption does bring down those who turned a blind eye
South Africa, at its best, aims high. We have some remarkably advanced corporate governance standards, especially for an emerging market at the bottom end of a continent not noted for its governance. And for every snarky comment that we were only included in the BRICS nations to make the acronym look better, there is someone to make a reasoned argument that we do, in fact, deserve our place in the portfolio of emerging power nations.
Even in the public sector, we aspire to high standards (yes, I know this may be a surprise to many readers). Our national budget process, for example, ranked second out of 100 countries for its transparency and openness earlier this year. Our Constitution and our statute books are full of high-minded ambition.
But ask anybody if we’re living up to all these aspirations and the best response you’re likely to get is cynicism, seasoned with anger and outright despair.
The problem is not that we are trying and failing. Given the high expectations we have of ourselves, some failures are inevitable. The real problem is that some days, it looks like we’re not even trying.
In the private sector, when an employee abuses their position to funnel work to a friend or relative, they get fired. If the offence is egregious enough to amount to fraud, they get charged and (hopefully) convicted.
But in the public sector, doing the same thing – and lying about it to seal the deal – appears to be perfectly okay so long as you apologise (the apology needn’t be sincere) and accept a minor slap on the wrist. Actually, calling six months’ suspension on full pay a slap on the wrist is giving it a little too much credit: ‘extended holiday at the taxpayers’ expense’ is more accurate.
Events like this – and there are far too many of them – make a mockery of all our proclaimed commitments. The message seems to be clear: You can get away with anything if you stay friends with the right people.
Now imagine, if you will, the kind of chaos that would ensue if the public had the same sentiment towards paying taxes, for example. What would happen if every citizen decided that he or she could put better use to those funds, as opposed to entrusting the government to do so? Would the response be equally lenient?
Forensic investigations only work when the unethical behaviour it unearths is addressed appropriately and supported fully by the bodies that appoint them. If not, those in charge will ultimately be the ones who are ‘sorry’.
Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is the Managing Director, idu Software.