The dimensions of corruption and their effects

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

I must underline from inception that this article is a reflection on and recollection of what I learned from Dr Johan Coetzee, who at one stage was my lecturer at Polytechnic of Namibia. From that time I came to understand that corruption is a societal evil with endless definitions. Regardless of its many definitions, corruption remains a societal cancer that erodes the social fabric of nations.

Generally, Namibians perceive corruption as cases that exclusively involve theft or embezzlement of public money. On the contrary and based on empirical studies, corruption is not just about theft and embezzlement of public of money. Corruption encompasses a range of issues that include but are not limited to political, administrative, management, economic and financial aspects.      

Corruption threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice of nation-states. It destabilises societies and endangers the rule of law. Corruption occurs when those in power illegitimately receive or accumulate an undue advantage for their personal use.

Corruption involves all forms of dishonesty and criminality which occurs when an office-bearer or governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is, therefore, any unlawful and improper behaviour that seeks to gain an advantage through illegitimate means.

By definition, corruption includes bribery, fraud, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, favouritism, patronage, graft, kickbacks, revolving doors, embezzlement, money laundering, gratification, inappropriate gifts, double dealing, under-the-table transactions, manipulating elections, diverting funds, defrauding investors, abuse of position of authority and so forth.

As earlier alluded to, there is a form of political corruption, and it typically involves cronyism, nepotism, favouritism, patronage and manipulation of elections. Simply put, political corruption is where those in high positions give their relatives and friends positions on a silver platter at the expense of qualified candidates. Ultimately, only those so favoured benefit, while the population at large suffers the consequences of inefficient service delivery.

Political corruption by those at the apex of governmental or organisational structures is possibly what happened to Hon Katrina Hanse-Himarwa. Even though she never benefited in monetary terms, she was found to have influenced the decisions of those who were supposed to execute their jobs free from external political influence.

To my recollection she is the first Cabinet minister to be put on trial and found guilty in the history of independent Namibia. In the aftermath of her trial, she made an honourable thing by resigning with immediate effect from her Cabinet post. Her trial must serve as a wakeup call and must dispel the notion that corruption is only about stealing money and embezzlement.

Meanwhile, much of what is happening in public offices daily amounts to maladministration and mismanagement, without either the employers or employees realising it. Corruption through maladministration and mismanagement occurs, for example, when those who were supposed to carry out their assigned duties and responsibilities effectively, opted to do private work instead. That may be termed as corruption by stealing time.

I have briefly spoken of political, administrative and management corruption within which illicit activities can take place. I shall now briefly highlight a few illicit activities that I strongly feel are more common.

Bribery is an illicit act of exchange between people. It is an evil situation where quid-pro-quo takes place, meaning it is two-way-traffic, where one gives and the other accepts. However, that exchange will only benefit those involved in the exchange.

Like bribery, ‘kickbacks’ involve illegal payment in the form of compensation for favourable treatment or other improper services given in the dark. Paying or receiving kickbacks is therefore, an unacceptable and corrupt practice that can be considered bribery in a different form. Kickbacks can manifest in inflated prices, with the intention that the official/s involved would get a golden handshake from that deal.

Fraud is another form of corruption that is normally committed by a person with the intention to mislead the public. Fraud, unlike bribery, is where an individual decides either to manipulate a financial or other statement by way of concealing facts, on the full understanding that the culprit will benefit from that illicit act.

Revolving door corruption often involves a situation where one can knowingly carry out an act – for example, influential government officials may recommend a structural change or an overhaul by introducing privatisation, contracting out, retrenching etc. The plan for such structural change or overhaul may be well orchestrated to benefit those who ostensibly suffered from the process of privatisation, contracting and retrenchment. In real terms, those people may end up being rehired. It can even happen that the officials who advocated for structural change and overhaul may benefit from that act.

From the above, it can be concluded that corruption involves a range of issues that can be real or perceived. Real corruption is when it is practically taking place within society. Perceived corruption on the other hand is where people have convinced themselves without proof that there is corruption going on in the society.

To get to the gist of real and perceived corruption, I note that there are people who on a daily basis write SMS messages to The Namibian newspaper. These messages do advocate political change by claiming that those in power, their relatives and friends are the only ones benefiting from the government by self-enriching themselves.

Take an example of an SMS in the said paper on 2 September 2019 that reads, “As long as we don’t vote this government out, there will be no change and we will continue to suffer because those in power fought for this country and they must now pay for themselves as they wish and here will be nothing left for future generation”.

Further, “Change must happen in this election, otherwise, we are in the same mess for next five years and more as the pre-elected retirees inherit power and economy continues deteriorating as already labelled negative by credit agents.”

From the above, one can deduce that there is nothing in these message but politicking. But will it still be politicking when we are told that the GIPF’s missing millions cannot be traced? If that will be politicking, it is very strange.

First, those moneys were given to individuals to invest. Have those individuals denied that they were given that money? Two, money does not move without leaving a footprint. Is it so that all effective means of tracing the footprint were employed exhaustively, to no success? If these questions go unanswered it would give an effective weapon to people who genuinely want to know.

To sum up, it is an undeniable reality that corruption has now moved from an endemic to pandemic scale across the globe and it can cause mistrust and the demise of societies. Even though hard to kill, eliminating it demands committed political leadership, supported by robust legal structures and effective anti-corruption mechanisms as enabling tools to ensure that those found to have committed corrupt practices do not escape the long arm of the law.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies and is HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. The views expressed herein are his own.