SA slips down graft league

If South Africa were a football club it would be heading for relegation, as the country continues its plunge down the corruption league table compiled by Transparency International.

Transparency International (TI) is an international anti-corruption organisation that produces an annual index of perceived levels of public sector corruption. Countries are scored on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (no corruption).

Long-standing log leaders Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden continue to share the top spot this year, all scoring 9,3.
Somalia retains the bottom ranking at 1,0.

This year South Africa scored just 4,9, compared with 5,8 for Botswana and 5,5 for Mauritius. In 1996 South Africa scored a respectable 5,7, but this had dropped to 5,0 by 2000. Nigeria has climbed from a dismal score of 0,7 in 1996 to 2,7 this year.

Patrick Berg, TI’s programme coordinator for Southern Africa, says the index is based on a survey that asks people how far they think they can conduct their personal and professional lives without falling victim to corruption. Most respondents are drawn from the ranks of business leaders and local representatives of international organisations.

South Africa’s score reflects perceptions that corruption is not properly investigated and that those investigations that do take place may be politically motivated, says Berg.

While the research was conducted before the political turmoil of recent weeks, many of the trends identified seem to be borne out by current developments. There is a lack of confidence that the truth behind the arms deal will ever be uncovered, says Berg.

He says the corruption case against ANC president Jacob Zuma has increased perceptions that prosecutions are used for political means: “People are not sure if the law applies equally to all.”

The tussling over the future of the Directorate of Special Operations—the Scorpions—has also led to doubts about the country’s ability to fight corruption.

“The decision to disband the Scorpions has created the impression that the authorities do not wish to tackle corruption as strongly as before,” says Berg.

Botswana retained its position as Africa’s cleanest country because of its accountability in managing the wealth generated by extractive industries such as its diamond mines.

In contrast to this approach Angola (1,9) and Mozambique (2,6) have dropped in the rankings, largely because of jitters about large contracts that are to be signed in extractive industries, says Berg.

As with oil-rich Nigeria, where the proceeds of the black gold are often siphoned off before reaching the people, the reluctance of Angola and Mozambique to sign up for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—which sets a global standard for companies to “publish what they pay” and for governments to disclose what they receive—has raised fears of graft.

The report highlights the links between poverty, failed institutions and graft. As TI chairperson Huguette Labelle says: “In the poorest countries corruption levels can mean the difference between life and death, when money for hospitals or clean water is in play.”

But rich countries also appear to be backsliding, with major drops in the scores of Norway and the United Kingdom. “Even in more privileged countries, with enforcement disturbingly uneven, a tougher approach to tackling corruption is needed,” says Labelle.

Britain has slipped down the rankings following political scandals and the government’s failure to prose­cute over alleged bribery. It is now classed as the 16th-cleanest country in the world, down from 12th in the previous year. This is Britain’s worst performance since the league table was started in 1995.

The executive director of TI, Chandrashekhar Krishan, says it is “probably no surprise” that Britain’s ­reputation for fair play has “significantly worsened”. He says: “Public confidence in political office has been eroded by the ‘cash-for-honours’ affair and the grudging exposures of MPs’ expenses.”

Britain, he says, has a “wretched and woeful record” in prosecuting business executives for paying bribes to foreign politicians and officials to win contracts.

He says this was epitomised by the UK government’s decision to stop a police investigation into allegations that BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, paid bribes to Saudi royals. BAE Systems has also been implicated in the South African arms deal scandal.

Additional reporting by Rob Evans,

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