When Corruption Becomes a Way of Life, and What to Do about It
Levels of corruption in Africa are symptomatic of the levels of moral decay that have engulfed African society. African society is drowning in a “have all, possess all” mentality that has become an endless orgy of spend and gain. Position and power have become keys to accessing resources meant for the general good and converting them for private good. We will be forgiven in concluding that the scrambles we see for power on our continent is no longer driven by a desire to serve but by waiting turns to loot. We have seen changes in ruling parties in various countries that have not resulted in a fall in levels of corruption.
This situation is compounded by the messaging by those who seek to fight corruption. The anti-corruption message is made very complicated by a multiplicity of terms and definitions—fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, illicit financial flows, and so on and so forth! These have left average citizens wondering what this is all about. Should we not just use as simple term like theft?
Another challenge is that the various development partners have continued to focus on strengthening oversight institutions in the accountability supply chain, instead of adopting a more all-encompassing approach. The supreme audit institutions’ anti-corruption agencies generally receive a lot of capacity building support, while the accountants and other professionals who actually “see things as they happen” are generally given the leftovers. Should we not be strengthening the whole supply chain?
The failure of political governance has made corruption endemic in Africa, and is a shared fundamental root cause. Most African governments come to power through corrupt and weak institutions, such as electoral commissions and the judiciary. It is too much to expect a government that comes to power through a corrupt electoral system to then turn round and fight corruption. Unfortunately, the international elections observer will, at the end of the day, tell the world “the elections were generally free and fair.” How can professionals no matter their determination be expected to be work with integrity under such a government?
Added to this is a media that has generally taken sides instead of being independent arbiters. The media generally has adopted the philosophy of “my friend’s corruption is alright, but that of my enemy is really bad.”
I believe the first point of call to ensuring integrity of public procurement is to have a mental transformation in the whole accountability supply chain. The private sector must accept that bribery is wrong, and that demanding bribes is wrong. Authorities must accept that using their position other than for the purpose for which it was intended is wrong. Surely, procurement professionals, accountants, bankers, lawyers, and people from all walks of life must know that taking part corrupt activities is wrong and abetting corruption is wrong. Society must be sensitized to abhor the corrupt and not celebrate them. The international community must openly reject all governments that fail to run elections in a free and fair manner and not allow diplomatic etiquette and trade interests to blind them.
As French economist and author Frederic Bastiat said, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
We need to simplify the message about corruption so that every citizen regardless of their level of education can understand it and its negative impact on their own lives.
IFAC actively supports the fight against corruption with many interventions, including the recent The Accountancy Profession—Playing a Positive Role in Tackling Corruption on the important role the profession plays in decreasing corruption. In addition, its International Framework: Good Governance in the Public Sector, developed with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, promotes the development of robust public sector governance by establishing a benchmark for good governance. Accountability. Now. promotes high-quality financial accounting and reporting by governments to improve transparency and help strengthen public sector financial management and accountability. Together, IFAC and its partners challenge and support governments to improve the quality and transparency of their financial management.
In order to promote integrity and defeat corruption, all of society needs to work together. Citizens in African countries must hold those charged with the responsibility of managing resources, whether in the public or private sector, to account for the use of these resources. Internationally, no country should allow itself to be a haven for corrupt proceeds from Africa.
Corruption must be elevated to the level of criminality that it is—a crime against humanity. Let’s stop arguing against corruption, as there has been enough of that; let us take up a fight against corruption.
*Vickson Ncube recently represented IFAC at the Africa High Level Public Procurement Forum, organized by the African Development Bank and World Bank. This article is based on his presentation addressing integrity issues in public procurement.