Trawling in the small fry

LESS FAMOUS THAN its controversial cousins the Scorpions, the Special Investigating Unit has quietly saved government R3.6 billion rand since its inception in 2001. The SIU investigates malpractice and fraud in the civil service. It cannot make prosecutions – instead, it dredges up evidence for civil and criminal proceedings (3461 and 2524 respectively so far) with a conviction rate of almost 50%.

Although the amounts fraudulently obtained by corrupt civil servants are normally small, added together the costs for government is huge. For example, the SIU has uncovered 20 000 government officials who were receiving illicit pension payments, while in the Correctional Services it managed to slash medical aid costs (of R1 billion) by 50%.

Sadly, the number of corruption scandals involving senior ANC acolytes that are denied and disregarded by government continues to grow: Oilgate, Armsgate, Travelgate to mention but a few.

Leaders – especially those in government and the ruling party – need to lead by example. The Tony Yengeni debacle is a case in point: for ANC movers and shakers to treat a convicted fraudster as a maligned hero not only smacks of double standards but also demeans the hard work and fantastic results that the SIU is producing. It also sends out the message to lowly civil servants– often demoralised and underpaid – that corruption is morally acceptable.

If government wants to lighten the SIU’s load it needs to practice what it preaches. To catch the small fry is undeniably important – and the political support that the SIU has been backed with is laudable. But for corruption to be overcome, bigger heads need to roll. Those at the pinnacle of power and influence were put there by the people. They need to be held accountable.


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