/ 1 July 2011

Holding state authorities to account

Corruption Watch, the Cosatu-backed anticorruption initiative, will focus on both the private and public sectors, its executive director designate, David Lewis, told the Mail & Guardian.

In an exclusive interview, Lewis, who formerly served as the competition tribunal’s chair, said: “If you look at the one you have to look at the other. The principal objective of the unit will be to hold state authorities, chapter nine institutions and law enforcement agencies and private-sector institutions and individuals who deal with the state to account. Both the public and private sector must be accountable for the manner in which they use public resources.”

Lewis would not say what the unit would cost to set up, but sources involved with the process said the initial budget was R12-million.

Johannesburg-based consultancy Resolve Group will help Cosatu with drafting budget and operational plans. Other organisations involved include law firm Cheadle Thompson, accounting firm Ernest & Young and Section 27, a non-governmental organisation.

The unit was conceptualised by Cosatu because it does not have the capacity to investigate information about corrupt activities received from its members.

According to a legal adviser who is helping the unit to get started, it will serve as a “middleman” between whistle-blowers and institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Protector.

“It will also provide legal backup. If you come across information but you don’t know what to do with it and you don’t want to go directly to the police, you come to us.” The unit will also assist whistle-blowers, who normally have a restricted view of the corrupt activities, to build the ­bigger picture. Information will then be handed over to the correct ­institutions to investigate and prosecute.

“We can’t replace the state institutions, but we can be a middleman to facilitate access to those institutions,” the legal source said.

Lewis said the unit would be able to put pressure on investigating authorities to ensure that a case received its due attention.

“We won’t have statutory investigative powers, but with the backing of civil society we will be well positioned to ensure that information on corruption is treated properly.”