WHAT drives people to be corrupt?
With all due respect to those among the rank and file of South Africa’s public service corps who put in an honest effort, allow me to ask: what makes public sector functionaries, especially at managerial level who enjoy the highest salaries and perks in Africa if not the world in comparative terms, engage in reckless pilfering of public resources and runaway aggrandisement swiped at the public till?
At first, these questions may come across as pretentious gambits from a self-righteous occupant of the ivory tower.
But indulge me.
Wouldn’t you also worry senseless if week in week out you have to endure acres of newsprint reporting on corruption in government – in virtually all spheres and sectors – with reckless abandon?
Wouldn’t you get to a point whereby you think being corrupt is an acquired skill as one works through the hierarchy of the public service?
However, what matrices should one use to frame the ignominy of corruption in our public sector when corruption is by the young for the young?
I am talking about the reports and allegations of corruption that have been filtering through from the ranks of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) in recent years and which seemingly came to a head when the former chairman of the agency was arraigned in court for fraud and money laundering.
The case facing the former chairman of the agency aside, reading reports on the kind of malfeasance that has been going on in this state agency – year in, year out – leaves one not only shell-shocked but wondering how “youths” could engage in such rampant and run-away corruption.
Media reports indicate the Auditor General (AG)’s Office found that in the 2011/12 financial year irregular expenditure at the NYDA was a staggering R133 million and for the 2012/13 financial year irregular expenditure “dropped significantly” to R62 million.
In the same reports, the AG notes that for the 2012/13 financial year the NYDA flouted national treasury regulations by procuring goods and services worth more than R500 000 without tender processes.
If you think this is dire, the AG continues to note that over the period under review, the agency had further financial losses to the tune of R31.5 million in defaulted loans.
In the AG’s considered opinion, the recovery of the defaulted loans was doubtful at best.
As this reckless pilfering of tax rands was in full bloom, the agency paid out performance bonuses – yes, folks, you got that right: performance bonuses – totalling over R7.6 million of which senior management was paid close to R5 million and general staff were paid R2.6 million.
This is the kind of stuff that makes one numb.
But hold on for a moment.
If you think the young chaps running this agency of the young for the young were through after all the preceding recklessness at the public till, there is an icing to the cake.
While all these shenanigans were being perpetuated, the pay package of the agency’s CEO was increased from R2.032 million to R2.435 million.
That is a whopping R403 000 increase in one fell swoop!
One is inclined to ask: for what?
For presiding over blinding looting of public resources?
For presiding over what is apparently a dysfunctional organisational culture and structure that cannot deliver on its mandate as outlined in the relevant legislation and concomitant rules and regulations?
Talking about legislation, unbeknown to many, the NYDA is established by an Act of parliament, this being Act No. 54 of 2008: National Youth Development Agency, 2008.
Among a raft of functions, the Act stipulates that the NYDA must, in order to achieve its objectives, establish competencies and capabilities in key areas such as economic participation; policy, research and development; governance, training and development; and youth advisory and information services.
Admittedly, these are noble pursuits and they should not be abandoned simply because successive generations of managers at the youth agency cannot get their act together or their heads around the mandate bequeathed to them by the legislation establishing the agency and any other related legislation, rules and regulations.
That said, however, I must hasten to add that there is no excuse whatsoever for anybody to subvert such noble pursuits so as to line their pockets or the pockets of their handlers, family and/or friends.
Worse, it is utterly regrettable and unforgivable when such recklessness with the public funds earmarked for the youth of this country is contrasted against the dire state of the youth in this country that has to contend with an inherited framework of systemic dysfunctionality.
To put this into perspective, conservative estimates by Statistics South Africa indicate that among medium-income nations, South Africa has the highest long-term youth unemployment rate for the ages of 15 to 24 which hovers closes to 43 percent of those unemployed.
When you think that these are the very same people that the NYDA should be assisting so that they can get at least one foot onto any form of employment, then the statement that “the ‘youths’ at the NYDA are behaving badly” starts looking more like an understatement.
Many youths of this country were robbed of their past – we cannot stand by and watch them being robbed of their future.
At least not by some of their own!
- Dr Munene Mwaniki is a senior lecturer/researcher at the University of the Free State. You can follow him on Twitter @munenemwaniki.