Friday, 29 August 2014

The clash of anti-corruption commissions

Asked about the qualities needed by a journalist, the late, great Nicholas Tomalin replied: ‘Rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.’ The same could be said of many anti-corruption lawyers, judges and officials, such as Spain’s Baltasar Garzón and France’s Eva Joly and Renaud van Ruymbeke, and in Africa, Kenya’s John Githongo, Sierra Leone’s Abdul Tejan-Cole and Nigeria’s Nuhu Ribadu. All these African officials were put in charge of anti-corruption commissions. All three pursued major investigations into the theft of public money, clashed with the ruling party and state officials, and subsequently faced threats to their lives.

What then are the prospects for the latest anti-corruption star, South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Madonsela? Angered by her determined efforts to investigate the state’s financing of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, the governing African National Congress accuses her of running a vendetta against the party and its leader and colluding with opposition politicians. Some have even questioned her patriotism.

So far she has shown herself equal to the pressure and has appealed to all sides to uphold the law. Unlike her counterparts in East and West Africa, Madonsela has an important privilege. Under the South African Constitution, the Public Protector has the status of a judge. That means that attempts to undermine the office and its holder constitute contempt of court and would amount to a criminal offence. For now at least, that would seem to shift the odds in her favour.

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