Conversations About Corruption II - Technology, Education, Public Mobilisation And Practical Steps

This brief - the second part in a two-part series - explores the discussions and ideas shared by stakeholders such as government, civil society, academia, and the public about how to combat endemic corruption in South Africa
Conversations About Corruption II - Technology, Education, Public Mobilisation And Practical Steps


Stakeholders who are trying to rid South Africa of endemic corruption have, in the last few months, come together to share their perspectives and approaches to this problem[i]. The purpose of this brief series is to collect insights so that they can be disseminated more broadly. Part I of the brief series focussed on the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) and how the procurement process can be reformed to prevent corruption. Part II will focus on some of the broader solutions that were proposed, such as using technology, education, and public mobilisation, as well other practical steps.

Can technology provide solutions?

The association between technology and corruption is not an obvious one, but stakeholders are increasingly recognising the value that technology can add to anti-corruption efforts. This idea is gaining traction globally[ii]. While South Africa would do well to take part in this trend, the country’s unique circumstances require solutions that are tailored to its particular needs and limitations.

Technology has great capacity to enhance transparency, because of its impact on the ways that information is captured, stored, processed, shared, and disposed of. Advances in technology can offer a “window” into government, allowing the public to keep watch and report irregularities. Presently, the public is able to access government information by making a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act[iii] - but Ms Amanda Shivamba from Corruption Watch stated that, in her experience, this process is slow and actually impedes attempts to fight corruption[iv]. There needs to a be a shift towards ensuring that relevant state information (with certain exceptions, such as information that could harm state security or infringe personal privacy) is captured and made available to public forums.

In the context of procurement, Mr TsangaMukumba from the Legal Resources Centre, criticised current systems as difficult to penetrate and a bar to transparency[v]. One way that technology is currently being used to enhance transparency is through the “e-tender” portal for the issuing of tenders, which is an initiative of the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer[vi]. This system makes information regarding issued tenders available not just to bidders, but to the public at large. Once bids are awarded, this information is also uploaded to the portal. This is a valuable first step, but thought must now be given as to how this initiative can be further enhanced, such as by including pricing of the bids received. A bolder step would be to anonymise bids.[vii]

In addition to the e-tender portal, the Central Supplier Database (a “consolidated list of all supplier information for national, provincial and local government”) has gone some way to ensuring the legitimacy of bidders by verifying their information and recording data on past transactions with government.

Former Chief Procurement Officer Mr Kenneth Brown argued that automation can be used even when creating tender documents to minimise non-responsive tenders[viii] being submitted[ix]. Procuring entities could enter their needs into a system that would generate the tender in accordance with pre-programmed requirements.

Systems can also be designed to track government employees and potentially disbar them from working in government if they are found to have engaged in corrupt activity. One public servant who participated in the public consultation regarding the NACS stated that there is presently no such system and that his experience is that these employees can get “lost in PERSAL (the Personnel and Salary Information System of Government) [x]” – allowing them to move into other government posts even after having being exposed.

Technology can be used to track funds that are not accounted for. Though not perfect, this can be used as a proxy for funds lost through corruption. The tracking systems can collate data from various departments, refine it, and show up which departments are hotspots for fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The officials in those departments could then be subjected to lifestyle audits.

Enthusiasm for technology-based anti-corruption approaches must be tempered with an acknowledgement of the challenges that technology brings with it. It is vital that the integrity of data is protected, whether it be from system error, human error, and intentional attack. In addition, privacy concerns must be taken seriously and safeguards should be worked into the system where possible. Data from these systems should be collected and reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are functioning optimally.

While these solutions are not a cure for corruption, they have potential to contribute. Any intervention that closes the net around the corrupt should be welcomed. However, the will to pursue this technology must be developed by government, otherwise it will be left to other stakeholders such as civil society to develop and test it. The resource-intensiveness of the initial development must be weighed against the potential benefits which – if the technology is successful – could accrue far into the future.

“Cultural intervention”, ethics training, and education

Stakeholders in anti-corruption efforts frequently ask themselves how did we get here? Increasingly, the answer put forward is a failure of institutional culture that allows (or even enables) people in the public and private sectors to engage in corrupt activities. Whereas ramping up enforcement mechanisms is a reactive response, attention is increasingly turning to preventative measures. One proposed measure is a “cultural intervention” within state departments and the country as a whole, emphasising the value of integrity and ethics in the public and private spheres.

Dr Terence Nombembe, the chair of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Advisory Council (Ethics Council), proposed that an “integrity pact” must be concluded with those in government[xi]. Representatives from the Ethics Institute further confirmed the importance of institutional culture and argued that attention needs to be given to how recruitment is conducted, who is recruited into public service, and the content of induction programmes at institutions. Integrity is more than a good work ethic: there is a need to professionalise the workforce with the right values.

A culture of ethics must be infused into the work environment. This can be done by placing ethics officers in government departments – either by new appointments or by training existing employees and expanding their roles. Mandatory special training regarding culture, ethics, and integrity can be provided to ensure consistency in approach across departments. Academic institutions have a role to play, such as by establishing a specialised school for government or developing training materials.

Education also can be used to build capacity in the civil service to minimise non-compliance with procedure not due to corrupt intent, but rather due to lack of skill or knowledge. This is an entirely separate risk. Once non-compliance due to insufficient skills is weeded out by the provision of training and support for underequipped employees, cases of corruption will be made more apparent, thereby enabling a more targeted response.

What about the public at large? When those in high office set a poor example of ethical conduct, it is no surprise that there is non-compliance with the law among the general population in matters such as taxes, UIF payments, and the like. In addition, bribery – such as in relation to traffic offences and the acquisition of licences and permits – is prolific. The proposed solution to these social ills is to foster a robust and healthy civic culture.

A starting point advocated by Professor Thuli Madonsela[xii] would be to make training in ethics and anti-corruption mechanisms part of school curricula. In addition, civic education campaigns can be embarked upon, driving home the message that engaging in corruption and bribery is a shameful act. The “human factor” in corruption must not be overlooked. While stakeholders acknowledged that these efforts might take years to bear fruit, it is an important foundational step in preventing future corruption.

Mass mobilisation and public involvement

In the course of their discussions, the stakeholders were clear: corruption is everyone’s problem. Anti-corruption efforts are bound to fail if not buttressed by public support. The last three years have seen increased public mobilisation against corruption[xiii]. This is important, as visible civic participation keeps the issue high on the national agenda. However, other forms of public involvement are vital.

The public can play an important oversight role in the appointment of public officer-bearers. Civil society organisations can facilitate engagement with these processes by publicising upcoming appointments and making candidates and their credentials known. An example of this is the campaign by My Vote Counts regarding the appointment of electoral commissioners, which highlighted that the public is entitled to comment on shortlisted candidates[xiv].

Mr David Lewis of Corruption Watch advocated for civil society organisations to come together to share “war stories” on how to mobilise the public regarding corruption – not just on state capture, but also on systemic, “petty” corruption[xv].

A concern raised by Ms Shivamba is that while numerous opportunities are given to stakeholders such as government, civil society, and the like to voice their views on corruption, there is no real engagement with the people who are actually affected by corruption. These people include communities without service delivery, like the people of Nala who were forced to continue to use buckets for sanitation, despite a tender being granted for the provision of toilets. Professor Madonsela recounted how her former office’s investigation revealed that while the toilets were built, no piping was laid to connect the toilets to the sewer system.[xvi] Mining communities are exposed to unique risks of corruption, such as damage to land and water supply due to a failure to enforce the conditions of mining permits. Other vulnerable groups who may be overlooked include immigrants and refugees, who can encounter corruption at border posts.

While forums such as the NACS workshop have certain utility, there is a need for effective collaboration to build trust between affected persons and other stakeholders. In considering the consequences of not doing so, Prof Madonsela contributed a sobering thought: corruption pushes people to the margins of society and destroys their faith in law and government. There is a danger that rampant, unchecked corruption can foster extremism, and this is a risk South Africa can ill afford to take.

Practical steps

Amidst the high-level discussions about developing strategies, policy and legislative reform, creating technological solutions, and broad-scale education and public involvement, were there any simpler, practical steps that were proposed in these engagements? The answer is a resounding yes – stakeholders have applied time and resources in coming up with practical solutions which can help to eradicate corruption, even if in small ways. These include:

· Strictly enforcing rules relating to financial disclosures, and obliging those in public office to publicly declare assets and gifts and face greater scrutiny regarding their lifestyles. Declarations should include gifts made to political parties, religious institutions, charities, and family members, as these can act as a conduit to receive proceeds of corruption. Public Service Commissioner Mr Michael Seloane noted that reporting and disclosure requirements in the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act[xvii] are often not followed[xviii]. Rather, a lot of money is spent in commissioning foreign investigations but the findings of those investigations are not implemented. Disciplinary action must be taken in response to non-compliance.

  • The effectiveness of anti-corruption hotlines needs to be reviewed. There are a number of such hotlines in South Africa: ones that operate nationally[xix], provincially[xx], locally[xxi], and within specific organs of state[xxii]. A project that might provide an insight into how allegations of corruption are addressed could involve centralising and analysing data from these hotlines, and then making the results public.
  • Protecting whistle-blowers by providing state-sponsored legal assistance. Whistle-blowers may not have knowledge or the law or the resources to obtain legal advice in order to navigate the complex legal framework regarding protected disclosures.
  • Creating a database of “politically exposed persons” (PEPs). Ms Harriet Wachira, a researcher at Transparency International Kenya, spoke of a project that that involved compiling a database of PEPs who are more susceptible to corrupt influences[xxiii]. This was done by reviewing concluded corruption cases and collecting the names and details of who had been found to have engaged in corrupt practices. There are plans to add a “tab” where information regarding persons currently under investigation would be collated. This database would then be made available to the public, which could be easily accessed when, for instance, a PEP decides to run for public office.

The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture

Many stakeholders are looking to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo (Commission) as the key starting point in the “detoxification” of South Africa. Prof Madonsela stated that the evidence stemming from the Commission will provide an indication of policies that need review in order to prevent a recurrence.

Certain stakeholders pointed out that, in order to function effectively, there should be a phasing of issues set out in the Terms of Reference, rather than attempting to tackle all issues simultaneously. Mr David Lewis shared his view that while the public’s appetite is likely for the Commission to make detailed findings against specific people, a preferable outcome would be for it to make findings that would assist government in developing a coherent and effective anti-corruption policy[xxiv].

Many agreed that civil society must closely monitor the proceedings at the Commission. Ms Janet Love of the Legal Resources Centre stated that civil society must engage in the process, and that documentation put before the Commission should be released into the public domain[xxv]. Civil society organisations can work together to form a working group to send questions to the Commission. Further, civil society can serve as a conduit for people who have been affected by corruption to have their stories heard.

Some stakeholders raised concerns, noting that commissions of inquiry can be used to “diffuse and delay” and are not good mechanisms to achieve tangible results. Further, questions need to be asked regarding who is conducting the investigation? At what cost? What is the remuneration of people leading evidence? What can the state pay towards fixing the state capture problem, given that South Africa already has a budget deficit?

It appears that, for some, the Zondo Commission will be a litmus test of the state’s response to corruption. It is hoped that the recent extension of the period of its work[xxvi] will afford it enough time to address all the issues contained in its terms of reference diligently. What is clear is that civil society and other stakeholders will need to observe its proceedings carefully and intervene swiftly if any irregularities are detected. The stakes are too high not to.


The good news is that people are talking about corruption, and attempting to devise new and innovative ways to eradicate it within South Africa. This brief series has attempted to capture the ideas and insights brought to the table from a diverse collection of stakeholders. What has emerged is that there is a lot of work to be done, across a broad array of institutions.

The bad news is that the ability to implement these ideas is limited by constraints: fiscal, political, and otherwise. For those that are implemented, there is very little margin for error: the reality is that corruption is wide-scale, pernicious, and Hydra-like in its ability to resurface even when anti-corruption gains are made.

In the face of what may seem like an unsurmountable challenge, one heartening aspect of these conversations on corruption is that they show that hope is not altogether lost: there are dedicated members of government, the academy, civil society, business, and the public willing to continue the fight against corruption.

Cherese Thakur
Legal Researcher

[i] These events, which were attended by representatives of the Helen Suzman Foundation, are as follows:

· The Gauteng public engagement workshop held on 5 June 2018 with regard to the development of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS);

· A roundtable discussion on professionalising public procurement hosted by the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) on 12 June 2018;

· The launch of a special interest group on public procurement law by the Administrative Justice Association of South Africa (AdJASA) which took place on 18 June 2018;

· A workshop held on 21 June 2018 by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) regarding the strengthening of civil society’s role in promoting government transparency and accountability for reducing corruption;

· A discussion hosted by PARI concerning the role of civil society in deepening the fight against state capture on 26 June 2018; and

· A forum entitled “Civil Society III” convened by Corruption Free Africa held at the Pan African Parliament on 5 and 6 July 2018.

[ii] See, for instance, these articles: L Silviera “4 Technologies helping us to fight corruption” accessed at on 30 July 2018; Transparency International “Techonology against corruption” accessed at accessed on 30 July 2018; R Banning-Lover “Nine ways to use technology to reduce corruption” accessed on 30 July 2018.

[iii] 2 of 2000.

[iv] Ms Shivamba was speaking at the public engagement workshop held with regard to the NACS.

[v] Mr Mukumba was speaking at the “Professionalising Public Procurement” roundtable discussion hosted by PARI.

[vii] This method of procurement has been tried in Malaysia. See M Nik Anis “Anonymous tenders for Projects” accessed on 1 August 2018.

[viii] That is, tenders that fail to comply with the prescribed requirements and are subject to disqualification.

[ix] Mr Brown was also speaking at the PARI roundtable discussion.

[x]Government’s integrated human resource, personnel, and salary system.

[xi] Dr Nombembe’s comments arose from the public engagement workshop held with regard to the NACS.

[xii] Prof Madonsela was speaking at the Civil Society III Forum.

[xiii] Such as protests held on 30 September 2015 (see G Whittles and S Sesant “Anti-Corruption March: SA needs to be morally disinfected” accessed at on 31 July 2018) and on 27 September 2017 (see S Mkokeli and M Cohen “Anti-corruption marches across SA target ‘Guptas’ as COSATU strike” accessed at on 31 July 2018).

[xv] Mr Lewis was also speaking at the Civil Society III Forum.

[xvi] This investigation was the subject of a report entitled “Pipes to Nowhere”, which can be accessed at (accessed 1 August 2018).

[xvii] 12 of 2004.

[xviii] Mr Seloane made a presentation at the NACS public engagement workshop.

[xix] The National Anti-Corruption hotline (0800 701 701).

[xx] Gauteng has a “Premier’s Hotline” (08600 11000) which can be used to access the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Unit.

[xxi] Cape Town (0800 32 31 30) and Durban (0800 20 20 20) both have anti-corruption hotlines.

[xxii] Such as SARS (0800 00 2870) and the Department of Home Affairs ((012) 406 4318).

[xxiii] Ms Wachira was speaking at a discussion group held at the Civil Society III Forum.

[xxiv] Here Mr Lewis’s comments were made at the PARI workshop regarding the role of civil society in deepening the fight against state capture.

[xxv] Ms Love was also speaking at the PARI civil society workshop.