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20 The interview ‘The objective is to get sufficient people and count their experiences of corruption’

corruption

Watchdog

South Africans have long been fed-up with corruption – and now we may have a champion to help us fight the scourge. LIESL PEYPER asked David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, if this new watchdog body is powerful enough to root out public and private wrongdoing

of businesses hiding it better?

Our emphasis is not on the public sector or the private sector but rather on the abuse of public re­ sources. In any procurement deal it takes two to tango. The arms deal is a good exam­ ple of a procurement relationship where the private sector is alleged to have been very heavily involved in corruption.

The public will lodge complaints via your website and on Twitter and Facebook. How will you pre­ vent public naming and shaming before cases have been proper­ ly investigated?

Sceptics say the police can’t even root out corruption let alone an organisation such as Corruption Watch . . .

We don’t see ourselves as a sha­ dow police force. But we will do investigations in order to facili­ tate reporting certain acts of cor­ ruption to the police. Even if we have the best and most effective police force in the world, corrup­ tion is not only a criminal prob­ lem but also a social one. You’ll never make a serious dent in combating corruption unless the public stood up and opposed it themselves. We want the public to engage in combating corruption and not be passive victims. Ultimately you begin to build a community of people who start to recognise they represent the majority of people of South Afri­ ca and those who are corrupt are isolated.

You said you’ll use a network of organisations and individuals to “stand up”. What does “standing up” entail? There are some communities who

Yes, reports on Twitter, on Face­ book, some by telephone. Though it’s still quite early we have identified a pattern already – a lot of petty corruption is tak­ ing place around the licensing of vehicles, immigration and border posts.

Corruption Watch’s David Lewis hopes the watchdog body will help stem the flow of corruption in South Africa. are – for very good reason – intimi­ dated and marginalised. We want to work with NGOs who work with immigrant and rural communi­ ties so we can engage with those people as well. We’d also work with lawyers and others who specialise in litigation. Things like class action suits are definitely something we will con­ sider.

What process will Corruption Watch follow after someone reports corruption?

It will go through a database that we will maintain, which will allow us to aggregate reports to identi­ fy hotspots of corruption. Once we have sufficient reports about a particular case we’ll pub­ licise that and we’ll take it to the authorities and relevant civil so­ ciety organisations. We’ll try to exercise sufficient public pressure to have the author­ ities investigate allegations. Other complaints, like procure­ ment fraud, we will investigate on a selective basis in order to develop

a fuller understanding of the alle­ gation. We’ll assist the complain­ ant in putting his or her complaint before the police or the public protector. Mostly the objective is to get suf­ ficient people and count their experiences of corruption so we can learn in which institutions corruption regularly takes place.

Do you think the Info Bill will be an issue?

Our product, if you like, is going to be very much about informa­ tion and where our board takes the view the Info Bill could endan­ ger info about corruption I could imagine they would be very con­ cerned about it. We haven’t taken an official po­ sition on it but there is a strong feeling that it might inhibit the flow of information about corrup­ tion and I think we would respond accordingly.

Journalists report on corruption in public services but not so much in the private sector. Is it a case

Before we go . . . what will you do if you discover a friend or rela­ tive is involved in corrupt acti­ vities?

I’d like to think I would do exact­ ly the same as in respect of any­ body else. We are an independent organ­ isation. Our reputation would demand we act with integrity. I would hope we would do that without fear or favour. See pg 6 for more on corrup­ tion in South Africa.

Fighter against corruption

DAVID Lewis was one of the founding members of the Competition Tribunal and chaired the body for 10 years. The former trade unionist worked in both the private and public sectors and chaired the presidential commission of inquiry into labour market policy. In 2009 he was appoint­ ed extraordinary professor at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

PICTURES: GALLo ImAGES/BUSInESS DAY/mARTIn RhoDES

The stuff comes through to our website. A certain part of it will be public and another part is private and will be accessible only to Corruption Watch staff. The names of individuals al­ leged to be involved in corruption won’t be public until it’s screened and verified.

Have any cases of corruption been reported since Corruption Watch’s launch?


Watchdog - Interview with David Lewis