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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 10, No. 21, 19 October 2011

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Let us elevate the fight against corruption into a societal issue: Business interests and leadership positions in society

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The capitalist system is by its very nature a corrupt and corrupting system, since its logic of private capital accumulation at any and at all costs breaks down any barriers in front of it, perverts and circumvents existing laws, as well target any social, political or economic sphere (and in fact every form of human interaction) as a site for private accumulation and exploitation. It is for this reason that for the SACP, the struggle against corruption must principally rest on a simultaneous struggle against the capitalist system itself.

However, the above does not mean that the struggle against corruption must be postponed until or unless there are prospects for an immediate transition to socialism. Our own slogan 'Socialism is the future, build it now', implies, amongst other things, that the very struggle against corruption must simultaneously be part of building a momentum towards, and capacity for, socialism.

The liberal offensive against our majority rule has sought to project the ANC and the government as the only corrupt organizations and institutions, as part of waging an oppositionist campaign against our movement and government. The SACP has consistently argued that whilst there are instances of corruption found within the ANC, and indeed inside its alliance partners, the ANC and our alliance are not corrupt ganizations. A distinction must be made between the organizations and corrupt individuals found within their ranks. As a matter of fact, much of the corruption that has been exposed in our country has directly been as a result of government actions against corruption.

However, because of the dominant liberal paradigm, especially through the capitalist print media, focus has largely been on corruption within government. Important as this may be, instances of corruption are fairly widespread in other spheres of society, and this tends to be ignored. There isn't even a serious effort in our country, and by the media, to properly investigate and understand the relationship between corruption in government and its linkage to corruption in the private sector. Often there is collusion between corrupt elements in both the private and public sectors often aimed at corruptly capturing government tenders and services. Tenderpreneurs are not only those in the public sector, but are also to be found in the private sector, in the union movement, NGOs and other sectors of society, whose primary goal is to get tenders in a corrupt way. There is, in other words, a deep intersection between corruption in both the public and private sectors, yet the latter is not often given the same attention as the former.

The SACP is of the view that in a capitalist society, where private accumulation is a dominant feature in society, all individuals in influential leadership positions in society are susceptible and often objects and subjects of corruption. Leaders in the trade union movement (which commands billions of rands in provident funds, insurances, procurement, etc); leaders in the church, company CEOs and board members, leaders in the NGO sector, and in many other spheres of society are also vulnerable to being corrupted or to engage in corrupt practices. To raise these other issues is not meant to divert from corruption that may be taking place in government, but to raise the dangers of corruption in society as a whole. As a matter of fact we cannot defeat corruption in any one part of society without intensifying the struggle against all forms of corruption in all of society.

Media, as a very powerful institution in society, is in itself not immune from being corrupted. The Murdorch scandal in the United Kingdom may as well be the tip of the iceberg on how journalists and editors are actually being corrupted and bought by powerful moneyed interests. Yet the media, at the very least in our own country, has not developed elaborate mechanisms to detect and prevent such corruption.

Government has gone to some lengths since 1994 in to set up structures and processes to combat and expose corruption. However, there are no similar efforts in the rest of society, especially in the private sector and in other organizations and institutions that also handle billions of rands and equally susceptible to corruption. The SACP has for instance often warned against 'business unionism' - the use of leadership positions in the unions for purposes of personal and private capital accumulation through union provident funds, insurance policies, and other services procured by unions, either directly by union leaders or through their spouses who are often operating in the background, and yet not immune to corrupt practices or rent-seeking behaviour!

The current global capitalist crisis is principally driven by greed and selfish accumulation and speculation, principally found, albeit not exclusively, in the capitalist financial sector. In addition there is massive price collusion amongst capitalist monopolies, whether it be through inflated bank charges or manipulated food prices, and yet this kind of corruption is not receiving the same kind of attention as often paid to government. There are also inadequate structures and legal regimes to check on this. Often where such corrupt practices are found, they are usually subjected to the Competition Commission or Tribunal processes, instead of the criminal justice system as is the case with all other forms of corruption. After all, what is the difference between tenderpreneurship and price collusion?

I must also admit that sometimes as a member of the executive of government, I get an uneasy feeling that some of the questions asked by the opposition MPs in parliament - many of whom we know have personal and private business interests - are less about holding government to account than the gathering of business intelligence in order to benefit the companies or other private accumulation interests such members are associated with. Whilst government has a Public Protector, the Auditor General and the Public Service Commission, amongst other instruments, to check on corruption in government, there is no 'Private Protector', 'Union or NGO Protector' or whistle-blowing mechanisms that are in place for the non-governmental sector.

Is it not important that ALL political parties, including our own liberation movement, should lead by example, and begin to pose the question of whether all people occupying leadership positions in these parties, and society as a whole, including trade union or NGO leadership, and their spouses, should be allowed to hold both their essentially public offices and also have private business interests? Should they all not be expected, through the law, to publicly declare all their business interests? Similarly should CEOs and senior managers in the private sector, or leaders in trade unions or NGOs, not be legally required to declare their (other) business interests and those of their spouses as part of a broader societal campaign to curb corruption? Otherwise failure to consider these matters would be to elevate what is called the 'private' or non-governmental sphere as to be automatically immune from public scrutiny or corruption. And we all know that this is not the truth as monies in such institutions have also been embezzled often at the great cost and expense to the workers and the poor of our country. What is it that makes a government minister more vulnerable to corruption that a trade union or NGO leader handling millions of rands of workers' or members' monies?

It may also be important that much as we wage a campaign for sources of funding of political parties to be made public, similarly all NGOs that operate in the public sphere, including the self-appointed public accountability monitors, should also publicly declare their own sources of funding. History is littered with examples of how some of these organizations have been corrupted by imperialist and other interests to undermine the voice of the majority in many developing countries for instance. No matter how much mechanisms are put into place to fight corruption in government, these will not succeed unless mechanisms are put in place to seek to fight corruption in all of society and its various institutions!

Unless we begin to seriously pose these questions, we may end up accepting the ridiculous and erroneous notion that it is only leadership in government that is susceptible to corruption or being corrupted. Virtually most, if not all, corruption watch organizations focus mainly on government, as if it were acceptable for money to be stolen from the trade union movement, NGOs and private companies! It is clear that ordinary criminal laws may not be adequate to deal with all of corruption in society, but that additional measures need to be taken to ensure transparency in all of society and its various institutions.

Our Red October Campaign seeks to build on the SACP-initiated mass campaign on the 'Red Card' against corruption, wherever it happens, irrespective of who is involved. It is time now that we raise the campaign against corruption into a broader societal campaign, as part of building a societal morality that places the interests of ordinary people above those of elites.

It is indeed possible that under capitalism, the exclusive focus on government corruption may be more about trying to pressure government to succumb to certain powerful private or non-governmental interests, than a principled fight against corruption in society as a whole. In some cases, the very 'champions' against corruption in the non-governmental sphere are the biggest thieves and corrupt element in society! Thieves are thieves, whether they are in the public or private sectors!

The SACP calls upon the struggle against corruption to be taken to higher levels, whether in government or in the non-governmental spheres, into a societal campaign!