Analysis: CYNTHIA MWALE
LAST week’s regional conference on Corruption and the Challenge of Economic Transformation in Southern Africa left me thinking about how at individual, national, regional and global level we could contribute to combating corruption.Corruption has not just become a widespread epidemic, but it is a grave hindrance to economic development which countries world over are grappling with.
What is this cancer called corruption?
Corruption is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power.
Transparency International defines it as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It classifies it as grand, petty and political, depending on the amount of money lost and the sector where it occurs.
Narrowing it down to Africa, the scourge has filtered into both the public and private sectors due to erosion of morals and ethics. It is worsening because society has to a large extent tolerated it – it has become business as usual.
Where is Africa losing it?
Scholars say corruption is a two-way street. Private interests, domestic and external, wield their influence through illegal means to take advantage of opportunities for corruption and rent seeking, and public institutions succumb to these and other sources of corruption in the absence of credible restraints. Even if detection is possible, punishments tend to be mild. Because of its systemic nature, it is hard to severely punish one person when so many others are likely to be equally guilty.
Yes, it comes in every form and negatively affects economies’ ability to provide quality social services. Corruption affects foreign direct investment (FDI) flows as potential investors would not want to risk their money in economies that are considered highly corrupt as it adds to the cost of doing business.
Thus, the five-day intense meeting which brought together national anti-corruption agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs), academia, the media and partner institutions, gave the stakeholders a platform to rekindle the fight against corruption.
This high-profile meeting was held in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, under the auspices of Economic Commission for Africa – Southern Africa Regional Office (ECA-SRO-SA) and AU Commission (AUC) – Southern Africa Regional Office.
Representatives from Southern African Development Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and African Development Bank joined forces with southern African member countries to share their experiences, lessons learned and best practices.
This platform was good as it brought out synergies in curbing corruption, implementation of stiffer institutional regulations to deter would-be perpetrators and promoting economic transformation, which is key to moving southern Africa forward.
What measures should be taken at all levels?
Since corruption affects everyone, there should be deliberate strategies by respective governments to give autonomy to their anti-corruption agencies. Political will is an essential ingredient for winning the war against corruption.
Additionally, partner institutions and CSOs have to come on board to ensure that anti-corruption agencies are adequately financed to build capacity in order to effectively deal with highly sophisticated and advanced perpetrators of the vice.
With the ever-evolving technology, perpetrators such as those involved in cyber-crimes are working around the clock, so anti-corruption agencies should be innovative.
Society too should keep its ears to the ground to blow the whistle louder. At individual level, whistle-blowers are critical in exposing corrupt practices through tipping anti-corruption agencies.
Similarly, media practitioners can provide awareness of the negative effects that corruption has on society and disseminate information to deter would-be perpetrators. However, they need to be given space to investigate such moral decay.
Overall, media still remain a key solution to the problem of “how to fight corruption”.
Certainly, the crusade against the scourge cannot be left solely in the hands of governments through their anti-corruption agencies, which people say are toothless. All stakeholders need to up their game.
Lastly, the judiciary and law enforcers need to impose stiffer punishments
The continent, and southern Africa in particular, is in dire need of continued flow of FDIs to grow its economies and to build hospitals, schools and roads to effectively industrialise. Africa requires money to add value to its natural resources to create jobs that will improve people’s livelihood and ultimately end poverty.
Therefore, it is crucial that corruption is urgently quenched to enable Africa to realise its full potential through economic transformation.
The author is business editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: CYNTHIA MWALE