/ 10 November 2022

SA must do more to combat corruption if it wants to get climate finance

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Sick state of affairs: People cover their faces during the pandemic in 2020. About R14.8-billion in irregular Covid-19 spending is being investigated. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) unfolds in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, realistic conversations about the implementation of South Africa’s nationally determined contribution, a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts, is required. 

South Africa has taken several steps to meet the nationally determined contributions (NCDs), such as funding for research, development and innovation programmes; finalising the Climate Change Bill; establishing the Presidential Climate Finance Task Team and adopting the Just Transition Framework and National Adaptation Strategy.

In her opening remarks during the pre-COP27 negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last month, the forestry, fisheries and environment minister, Barbara Creecy, said that there had been a “failure by developed countries to meet their commitment of mobilising $100-billion by 2020”. This pointed to the need for developed countries to contribute financing for a just transition and limit international finance that exacerbates Africa’s indebtedness.

Despite Africa’s insignificant contribution to climate change, the continent is heavily affected in some regions because of multiple factors that include underdevelopment, low adaptive capacity, heavy dependence on climate-sensitive sectors and limited access to finance and technology. 

Creecy rightfully highlighted that “we need everybody to show progress in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions and need new finances for our just transitions, including direct budget support for developing countries to build adaptation and resilience”.

This is important because African countries need substantial investment for climate change adaptation. Multilateral and international private-sector financing is crucial.

But there is concern regarding how South Africa’s NDCs and climate change interventions are disjointed from socioeconomic realities and how the calls for climate financing do not take into account South Africa’s public finance corruption problems.

It is one thing for the country to call for climate financing but it’s another for developed countries and private sector financiers to contribute public financing if South Africa is not able to administer the money without misuse. 

Last year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana warned that rampant corruption was a persistent problem which was draining public finances. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption disrupted the advancement of key social and economic rights, such as education, the creation of employment, entrepreneurial pursuits and digital access. 

Several cases of public procurement corruption are being investigated. For example, the Special Investigating Unit is looking into procurement irregularities worth R14.8-billion associated with Covid‑19 spending from April 2020 to June last year. 

South Africa is trying to combat corruption in various ways. 

Among the steps taken are the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture which exposed institutional weaknesses; task teams have been set up in a number of provinces to deal with extortion and violence at construction sites; the Financial Intelligence Centre’s Fusion Centre was established to act on fraud and corruption in the procurement of Covid-related goods and services; the National Anti-Corruption Strategy has been adopted and the Political Party Funding Act will help to regulate public and private funding of political parties.

Despite this, South Africa isn’t doing enough to combat corruption in the public sector. Key regulatory and oversight agencies are underfunded and poorly led. This can have dire consequences, especially for the delivery of public services. 

The most vulnerable people are negatively affected the most. Corrupt activities redirect money that was intended to reach key sectors into the hands of greedy leaders who fail to prioritise public services to help those who need it most. 

In addition, South Africa has made slow progress in recovering assets lost to state capture and corruption and in prosecuting those who are responsible for such corruption. This, in turn, affects the government’s ability to redirect those funds for essential service delivery.

Proper financial resourcing of public institutions which are tasked with anti-corruption work is vital to prevent public finance losses. 

This will be important for tracking expenditure from multilateral and international private sector financing for climate adaptation and resilience. 

An effective legal or regulatory instrument that creates an enabling environment to implement climate change and environmental sustainability programmes, while maintaining transparency and accountability in the management of the funds, is essential. 

Incorporating programme implementation that involves direct financial management and accountability by multilateral institutions, civil society organisations and other countries’ governments, through their embassies or consulates, is something to be considered by our government to build effective accountability systems. 

For South Africa and other African countries, the conversation of climate financing must be accompanied by anti-corruption instruments being put in place to mitigate the appropriation of public funds from multilateral institutions and the international private sector. 

As long as African countries fail to effectively tackle corruption, their calls for climate financing to be released for the purpose of climate adaptation and resilience may end up being ineffective.

Karabo Mokgonyana is a legal and development practitioner and programme director for the Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.