Anti-corruption body exists in name only

The government of Swaziland has allocated R2-million in its budget for an anti-corruption office that does not function, but is sorely needed.

“Corruption is part of any national government, any business, any place from a school headmaster’s office to a religious organisation where money and influence are found. It is to government and society’s benefit that an anti-corruption authority exists to take action,” says an Mbabane attorney with the Swaziland Law Society.

But the solution, according to advocates for a clean government, is not the current anti-corruption unit that they say seems to exist in name only.

Launched with much fanfare in 2000 by then prime minister Sibusiso Dlamini, the unit was part of the government’s plan to make services more transparent, and to reign in practices of influence peddling, bribery, kickbacks, nepotism and outright theft. Such malpractices were thought to contribute significant financial losses to the cash-strapped government of the impoverished country.

Worse, corruption in all its forms made Swazis cynical about their government and other institutions.

“If you want to get anything done, you have to know someone or pay someone,” says a weary woman standing in queue for a Swazi national identity card at the Home Affairs Ministry.

Tipping is common — a few dollars to a clerk to avoid the queue wait — but bribery and kickbacks, particularly as the government embarks on major public works and infrastructure projects costing tens of millions of rands, are more serious, and were to have been the object of the anti-corruption unit’s work.

“We are dedicated to ending malfeasance in government and society,” said the prime minister at the unit’s launch.

In the four years since, Swazis complain, the unit has not brought one government official to book.

In its defence, sources with the unit say the body still lacks certain statutory authorities to do what it must.

And while offices exist in a 50-year-old complex built by the British colonial government, the Swazi media report that little is done there by way of fulfilling the unit’s mandate: to gather evidence and recommend cases to the director of public prosecutions for action.

Why, after setting up the unit, did the government not commit the enabling legislation and monies to make it functional? The independent Times of Swaziland and some public service organisations have questioned the government’s desire to curb corruption.

The head of one NGO, who prefers that his name not be disclosed, says: “Corruption is everywhere, right up to the top. If the ‘small fry’ were to be prosecuted, they would squeal that the higher-ups were being ignored, and they might spill some unpleasant beans.”

Others also suggest that because the anti-corruption unit cannot practise selective prosecution, but if fully enabled would have the potential to go after top officials, there is a reluctance to get it going, even after four years.

“If there are no prosecutions for corruption, how can you say there is any corruption in Swaziland?” jokes a Justice Ministry official.

Some officials fear that the pursuance of government corruption could also publicise malpractices, and give the impression that there is corruption in Swaziland at a time when a governmental priority is to lure foreign direct investment into the country.

“Some people may want everyone to think there’s no corruption here, but investors find out soon enough when they need something done,” says one businessman.

In some African countries, there is a tendency for officials to see favours and the personal use of government funds and resources as an entitlement, as an expected perquisite for being a “boss” in a powerful position.

In Swaziland, no statistics exist to provide data to the World Bank for its corruption reports, so there are no facts to show the extent of the problem. But anecdotal evidence — the testimonies of business people in particular — say corruption is there. Most blame the officials’ sense of entitlement.

This week, King Mswati received the gift of two Watusi cattle from representatives of the Lowery Park Zoo in Florida in the United States. The present was consistent with a long-standing Swazi custom of acknowledging the favours of a Swazi king with some cattle.

The Watusi cattle are exceptional beasts — bred by the zoo after they became extinct in Africa, and reintroduced to the continent via Swaziland.

Last year, Mswati gave permission for 11 elephants doomed to death by culling to be sold to two US zoos. All wild animal exports have to be approved by the monarch.

“This is tradition to honour the king with a symbolic gift. The problem with so many government officials is they think of themselves as kings, and they say, ‘Where are my cattle?’,” says former ministerial employee Janice Simelane, now a member of an NGO dedicated to better governance. — IPS

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James Hall
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