Indeed, it was prudent for the congress to highlight the association between public participation, accountability processes in government, and the realisation of human rights in a manner that serves as a good reminder that public platforms such as parliament and the provincial legislatures are democratic spaces that belong to the people of South Africa.
This sentiment was displayed in the important resolutions dealing with efforts to combat corruption, which is threatening our collective efforts to eliminate poverty and inequality in our society.
What was noticeably emphasised by the congress about the state of our democracy is a breakdown in trust between citizens and the political elite who have failed to live up to the election promises.
This is particularly true of those corrupt elected representatives who have used public office to enrich themselves, as manifested in the increasing number of reports of corruption, nepotism, financial mismanagement, tender fraud, and administrative inefficiencies that cripple so many of our government departments and municipalities. Sadly, those involved in these corrupt practices come from the ranks of organised civil society formations, and the ANC-led alliance which Cosatu is part of.
Our participation in this congress as organised civil society formations and faith-based organisations was motivated by a vision of strengthening active citizenship partnership to strengthen the voice of the poor and the marginalised on issues such as the regulation of political party funding, the creation of a national framework to protect whistleblowers, the institutionalisations of an independent investigating authority to fight corruption, and the implementation of policy and legislation to deal with cartels and tender-rigging.
Like other systems of governance, democracy is simply a set of rules guiding the apportionment of power and conduct of transitions. The benefits can only be realised with conscientious leadership, an adequate system of checks and balances, and a well-informed citizenry.
Successful efforts to reform corrupt public administrations and to curb abuses of power depend on leadership that is attentive to the rule of law and able to counterbalance resistance to reform by mobilising supportive, democratically-based constituencies, and by acting swiftly to put in place appropriate laws and institutions to combat corruption.
“The lack of political party funding regulation and disclosure,...provides fertile ground for corruption.”
Political party funding
The first welcome outcome of this congress is the reinforcement of the call for regulation of political party funding in South Africa. This call is informed by the realisation that private money in politics is a critical site in the struggle for accountable governance.
When wealthy elites can purchase power by secretly funding political parties in exchange for benefits - such as favourable legislation, policy choices, public tenders, or administrative action - the poor and marginalised disproportionately pay the price.
The ongoing debate affirms that political parties play a critical role in forming and representing democratic political will in our constitutional dispensation, as they do in all democracies. It also acknowledges the democratic imperative that political parties require sustainable sources of funding in order to undertake their legitimate and necessary tasks in an open and competitive democracy.
However, the lack of political party funding regulation and disclosure, combined with parties’ increasing demand for funds, has created in South Africa, as elsewhere, an unhealthy alliance between some in government and some private interests that is democratically unaccountable and that provides fertile ground for corruption.
For South Africa to meet the challenge of political and economic corruption, and to live up to its promise of political equality and economic opportunity for all, it must combine strict, independent enforcement of existing anti-corruption laws with fundamental reform of the still-unregulated space of private funding of political parties.
The second aspect of the debate is in relation to promoting and strengthening existing protection measures for whistleblowers. This position is informed by the primary concern that the protective scope of existing laws is too narrow and lacks a consolidated and comprehensive framework on whistleblowing.
Instead, whistleblowing is regulated by a splintered series of different laws that apply varying obligations to public and private entities, and different levels of protection for different categories of whistleblowers.
The Cosatu resolutions will add weight to the current legislation reform process that will ensure a framework that includes bodies and organisations that could also effectively deal with complaints, but are outside the ambit of the offices of the Public Protector and the Auditor General. This will enable ordinary citizens at local level, including union members of the Cosatu affiliates, to engage actively in the fight against corruption.
Cartels and collusions
The test for Cosatu, an alliance partner of the ruling ANC, will now be on its ability to assert its influence within the alliance, especially in the area of fighting corruption. The result should unlock the impasse on issues such as the crippling delay, largely due to lack of “political will”, in the implementation of the Competition Amendment Act 1 of 2009.
Investigations by the Competition Commission since 2006 found that representatives of some companies have held telephone discussions and meetings prior to the submission of their respective tenders.
In these "private chats" they collaborated over their responses, and discussed and agreed on prices. This concerned the manipulation of prices for basic food items, pharmaceutical and hospital products.
In an environment where government is involved in the procurement of goods and services, and where the possibility for collusion and uncompetitive behaviour by companies applying for tenders is high, it is important that strong institutional checks and balances, as envisaged in the Competition Amendment Act, are implemented without delay.
Over the past years, Cosatu and civil society formations such as the Black Sash have taken a commendably strong stance against corruption, collusion and uncompetitive behaviour through submissions to the Competition Commission, Parliament, and the launch of the Bread Price-Fixing class action case in the Western Cape High Court.
The renewed commitment at this congress will enhance Zwelinzima Vavi’s leadership role of the National Anti-Corruption Forum and the collective efforts of civil society, business, and government to combat corruption. It will also assist the African Union’s Peer Review Mechanism to keep the momentum in the fight against corruption in the continent.
Nkosikhulule Nyembezi is a policy analyst and advocacy programme manager for Black Sash.