Poverty Thrives Where Corruption Is High

By Bertie Jacobs
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Bertie Jacobs

“When good governance is sacrificed on the altar of corruption, service delivery falters. Where corruption thrives, as we have seen in many of our municipalities, an increase in poverty becomes inevitable.”

This is according to Prof Kedibone Phago, Director of the North-West University (NWU) School for Government Studies, who explains that corruption is killing the country’s future.

Recent figures suggest that more than 18,2 million South Africans live in extreme poverty in 2023, an increase from the previous year. Projections show that this number will only increase, and corruption is at the heart of this dilemma.

“The essence of corruption is that it diverts resources from their intended use and instead resources are used to serve nefarious agendas. Resources are deliberately exploited to benefit certain individuals or groups rather than the intended beneficiaries. Often, the powerful are involved because it is easier to sweep such corrupt actions under the carpet. We have seen from many reports of the Auditor General and even during the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, also known as the Zondo Commission, that many of the people who enable corruption are in powerful positions, highly educated and sophisticated. This makes it even more difficult from a law enforcement perspective to prosecute. This is especially the case where our law enforcement agencies are deliberately weakened to ensure that their investigative capacity is crippled,” explains Prof Phago.

He goes on to say that: “The effects of corruption are usually devastating, especially to the integrity of governance processes and to the citizens who need public services to lead their lives with dignity. The examples are all around us where there is an annual budget allocation and the government makes a commitment to parliament about spending plans and priorities, without any meaningful implementation of those plans. Even in cases where the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statements are made, they remain a talk show and have no material benefit for citizens. The reality is that citizens in developing countries such as ours need quality services such as education, health, water and sanitation, an effective police force, roads and infrastructure and mobile connectivity, among others. When these basic services are not provided, the dignity of the people is directly affected, which can lead to populist politics.”

The NWU is committed to helping achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which entail the eradication of poverty, the promotion of well-being, access to clean water and sanitation, economic growth and the reduction of inequalities. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on the impact of corruption on communities and to identify ways to curb corruption. The establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council (NACAC) is a positive development for the country, which needs to be supported. This body was established on the recommendation of the Zondo Commission.

“Citizens have several options if they want to play a role in stopping corruption. For me, there are two main considerations. The first is the role of parliament in holding the executive authority to account, which remains an important avenue. Citizens need to use their relationship with public representatives in parliament to get involved in such matters. Second, citizens need to be organised, particularly through civil society and non-governmental organisations. When citizens are divided along ethnic, racial, class, language and other lines, they often become susceptible to populist politics. In fact, it is usually populist politicians who exploit these elements to maintain their relevance instead of genuinely exposing corruption and advocating for investment-friendly policies that could help develop the country,” says Prof Phago.

Corruption must be put to the sword if the country is to realise its potential, and it is through engaged, active citizenship that it can be dealt a fatal blow.

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