There is much talk about corruption, about those responsible, what should be done about them and how we stop this scourge. All very good questions and ones that we should all be wrestling with!

But it is important to put this debate in context. We are not the only country in the world to suffer from it and we are by no means the worst.

It is fascinating to look at Transparency International’s latest survey results to give us some idea of how we feature in the world rankings.

It is not a surprise to see all the Scandinavian countries filling the top, most corruption-free spots, with New Zealand being the world leader. Also, in the mix you find Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and Canada.

At the other end of the scale are two countries who have constantly been in the news for too long for all the wrong reasons: South Sudan and Somalia who jointly occupy 179th place. The are quite a few ties in the rankings hence only 179 places, although there are some 200 countries surveyed.

South Africa sits in 69th position, just inside the top one-third of the countries surveyed. Ahead of us in Africa are Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe, Namibia, Mauritius, Rwanda, Botswana with the leading African country being Seychelles in 27th position.

Which other significant countries feature below South Africa? Here is a selection: China, Russia, India, Turkey, Vietnam, and Egypt.

The fact that we are not amongst the worst is cold comfort. Any corruption is too much!

Companies, governments, and many other organizations employ auditors and forensic investigators to find the sins and identify the sinners. The fact that we place so much importance on audits and investigations is part of the problem!

Firstly, they can only look at the past and no matter how detailed the report or findings are they on their own do absolutely nothing about the future.

This is where the disconnect happens and why we find it so difficult to put a permanent end to this cancer in our economies and societies.

It has almost become a “Oh well it happens all over the world so we will have to just live with it’ mentality.

That attitude is just simply totally unacceptable, and it should be unacceptable to all of us.

To condone, in any shape or form, the propensity for corruption at any level in society is to accept that we are more than halfway to condoning the real thing.

Finishing anywhere other than amongst the best is unacceptable. To aspire to be anything less than top of the table is unacceptable.

Of course, some may say but corruption is not universally bad. But this belief is an extremely poor compromise. Any corruption is bad. Period. It does not matter how much or how little.

Corruption undermines the moral fabric of society; it demotivates those who behave ethically and honestly; it steals from the poor and makes wealthy those who have not worked for their wealth; it discourages those who wish to invest to do so; it steals jobs from those who do not have them and puts those who have jobs at risk of losing them. Corruption is the ultimate in selfish self-indulgent and unsustainable behavior.

So, South Africa is not as bad as some and much worse than others in the corruption stakes. That is the fact that we wrestle with. We have a long way to go to be anywhere near one of the most corruption-free countries.

What we need to do about it is the real question?

There is absolutely no upside to arguing about the quantum or severity of this scourge in our society. It does not matter how bad it is. However mild or bad it is we need to root it out lock stock and barrel!

The solution starts with leadership. At all levels. All leaders elected or not. It starts with the leaders making sure they lay down an uncompromising position on corruption in all its forms. It means leaders making sure that the values and culture of the organisation make it almost impossible to engage in underhanded schemes and activities. It means ensuring openness and transparency at all levels in the organization; and it means making sure that all the systems, policies and procedures militate against any form of corrupt behavior. Of course, the reward systems must be aligned with this approach to organizational behavior.

It is not adequate to say that the law and policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance, and that all important organisations are thoroughly audited. Steinhoff was subjected to all of these and we know what happened there.

Why? The value systems and culture in Steinhoff (and others) spelt a message of profligate enrichment at the expense of honourable behaviour.

Bureaucratic compliance does not ensure a corruption free society. Corruption is a behavioural issue and therefore not one that can be audited out. All the audits can do is show the quantum, and perhaps the trail of corruption. Making the change happen requires strong and principled leadership which is not frightened to act and can be seen to be ruthlessly rooting out the problem and the problem people.


Tony Frost