PARI Symposium on ‘Institutionalising Government: International, Comparative Perspectives on Corruption’
Barry Gilder, Director Operations, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA)
Corruption has become a political ping-pong ball batted not just between political parties competing for the moral high ground, but within political parties, between factions in local communities and their local authorities in pursuance of an opportunity at the benefits of power, between public intellectuals and the government-in-general, between the public and politicians-in-general. This ping-pong Olympiad is driven largely by generalised notions (implied if not stated) such as ‘all power corrupts’, ‘all politics is corrupt’, ‘all liberation movements-become-governments become corrupt’, ‘the ANC is inherently corrupt’ and, the worst of these, ‘Black people are by nature corrupt’.
These generalised notions are founded primarily on a moralistic attitude to corruption. Corruption is evil. Corrupt people are evil. The political parties and governments that house them are evil. While moral righteousness is perhaps a necessary ingredient in the recipe to combat corruption (we must certainly at least agree that misusing power and authority for personal gain is not a good thing) such righteous indignation is not a useful instrument for understanding corruption and for devising measures to deal with it.
What is needed is an understanding of the political, social, cultural, economic and psychological factors that coalesce to make corruption possible, even desirable, and eventually endemic. In simple terms, what turns an otherwise ‘good’ person into a corrupt one? Or, in common current public discourse parlance: what turns a liberation hero into a tenderpreneur?
People join the public service for different reasons. For some it is just a job, and for many black people during the apartheid days who found themselves in the administrations of the former bantustans or other arms of the apartheid public service, it was the only available employment option with economic and professional opportunities closed to them. For a few, too few, public service is a professional calling. And for fewer still it is a commitment to turning around the injustices and inequities of apartheid.
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