Members of the ANC caucus are a forgiving bunch. Yesterday the caucus issued a statement in support of fellow MP, Nyami Booi, who earlier this week was convicted of stealing money from Parliament. The caucus stated – correctly – that the Constitution does not prohibit a criminal like Booi from serving as an MP. One is only prohibited from serving as an MP if convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment without the option of paying a fine.
I have re-read the Constitution and to my shock discovered that the Constitution is silent on many things, which – on the ANC caucus logic – allows for a lot of ethical leeway in public life. It does not prohibit an avowed white supremacists from being appointed Chief Justice, nor does it prohibit Wouter Basson from being appointed South African Ambassador to the United Nations. Neither does the Constitution prohibit the appointment of a wife beater to head the Commission for Gender Equality or a child rapist from being appointed headmaster of a primary school frequented by MP’s children.
If the ANC caucus were to be consistent and were to followed its own logic, it would therefore wholeheartedly support all of the above appointments. After all, a commitment to ethics, logic and common sense does not come into it. As long as something is not prohibited by the Constitution it must be worthy of support. And as neither the Constitution nor other legislation criminalises racial discrimination, one would have to assume that the caucus would also support any MP found to have discriminated against anyone else or to have uttered despicably racist sentiments.
I happen to have a different view. It seems to me that political parties have an ethical duty to take a principled stand against corruption and should fire any criminal who had been convicted of stealing from Parliament. Let me quote from something I wrote previously to demonstrate my point:
Corruption in the public sector means theft of resources that belong to the people. In the private sector, it deprives the economy of resources that would be used to increase the national wealth, and thus create the means to meet the needs of the people. Corruption takes many forms: abuse of power; manipulation and misrepresentation of facts; opportunistic theft of government resources; planned theft of government resources; tender manipulation; bribery; dereliction of duty; any action for illegitimate and illegal gain or profiteering.
Corruption in the public and private sectors therefore directly undermines the critically important national effort to defeat poverty and underdevelopment, and thus ensure sustained progress towards the achievement of the goal of a better life for all. It entrenches poverty and by diverting key resources away from programmes designed to improve the quality of life especially of the poor, it negates the potential for development. Accordingly, corruption benefits the few, and harms the majority.
Public servants and political office bearers have a responsibility to lead by example. None of the objectives of development can be attained if the state of corruption is high in the public and private sectors, and is condoned by and/or rampant in society as a whole. Laxity in executing public service duties constitutes corruption. Most of the public servants employed in government today are not from the apartheid era, but were engaged during the democratic dispensation. Apartheid cannot be blamed every time we fail to discharge our responsibilities or get involved in corruption.
As a society we must resist the worshipping of the value-system that deifies individualism and the material possession as the pinnacle of human success. Only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can we succeed to defeat and eradicate the value system that justify naked selfishness represented by acts of corruption.
We need politician and civil servants who share the vision of our government and people; and who can manage the inherent conflict of interest between personal and public interest. In this way, we will succeed to create a harmonious relationship between the private and public interest, and treat these two as not mutually exclusive.
We all have a role to play in this war against crime and corruption. We must actively participate in Community Policing Forums. We must stop buying stolen goods, which encourages crime. We must report crime and assist the police with information to catch wrongdoers. In this way, we will move forward towards a crime-free society combating corruption.
The ANC as an organisation must place the elimination of corruption high on its agenda by ensuring that: branches and members are educated on the various forms of corruption and the necessity for its eradication; a nationwide anti-corruption campaign is initiated and mechanisms developed to build a link between state intervention on corruption, and our movement’s own initiatives and responses to the matter; every ANC cadre must be offended by acts of corruption and prompt disciplinary action must be taken against any member, regardless of office, who is guilty of any corrupt practice.
We cannot continue to allow our new democratic state to be indistinguishable from the previous such that national democracy would seem pretty much like apartheid and thus be equally doomed. To succeed in combating corruption, it is not enough that people should fear the law and punishment; they must also be ethical and possess the ethos that makes corruption fail to thrive.
We must inculcate a culture of hard-work in society as a whole; and the leadership must lead by example. At the same time, we must strive to achieve a balance and harmony between both material and spiritual needs. There is need for united action by all stakeholders such as political leaders, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals and academics, and others, to expose the root causes of and combat corruption. We must implant in society as a whole the values of integrity, hard-work and respect for public resources and the common good.
Dear reader, I apologise for deceiving you. I did not write the above. It is in fact a (slightly edited) version of an article which appeared in ANC Today on 5 June 2009. But the piece admirably sets out the ANC policy on corruption and if we were to take it seriously we would demand that the ANC immediately repudiates its caucus and demands that Booi – and any other Travelgate criminals – resign from Parliament.
It is time for the ANC not only to talk the talk but also to walk the walk. It must fire the criminal MPs representing the ANC in Parliament forthwith. If it does not and offers the excuse that the Constitution does not demand it take action against MPs who steal from Parliament, I for one would find it rather difficult to believe anything the party says on this topic in future. It would also be difficult not to conclude that the ANC has no understanding of ethics and that it supports corruption and criminality by its own members.
It would be a sad day indeed in the history of the ANC.