Just saying no is not enough

When respected advocate Norman Arendse stood up and claimed that another prominent South African, sports boss Gideon Sam, tried to bribe him to influence one of the state’s biggest tenders, swift and stern action should have been the result.

Our tough anti-corruption legislation compels those in the know not to sweep bribery under the carpet. When people of authority - a director general or a committee chairperson, for example - fail to report their reasonable knowledge or suspicion of such an act to the police, it is a criminal offence, according to the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. Yet, ­little or nothing was done about Arendse’s claim.

Arendse alleged that Sam made the overture late in 2008 as he put the finishing touches to a committee report to the chief executive of the South African Social Security Agency, recommending that a R7-billion bid for the distribution of social grants be cancelled.

Arendse did the right thing.
He said he had told his would-be-corruptor to get out, immediately called his secretary to dictate a report and reported it to his senior colleagues on the adjudication committee the next day.

Apparently they decided not to let Arendse’s story influence their decision and wrote to Cash Paymaster Services, the company on whose behalf the bribe offer was made, which denied any involvement.

But from there it was business as usual. The tender was cancelled for other reasons. The company won a subsequent version of it, now worth R10-billion. Sam went on to become president of the South African sports confederation and olympic committee. Yet, because no one bothered to report this to the police for investigation, startling questions remain. For instance, did Sam really approach Arendse with an open-ended bribe? If so, was he really ­representing the company?

If not, Arendse would have to offer an extraordinary explanation. If yes, it would have serious repercussions for both Sam’s role as a leader and the subsequent award of a massive tender. Astonishingly, however, it seems no one thought enough of Arendse’s story to test it further through police investigation: just another bribe allegation, just another tender dispute.

There is more to building an anti-corruption culture than turning down bribes - those who offer them should be prosecuted for failed attempts too.

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