Change the world

04/07/2022

Attorney and esteemed academic, Professor Deon Erasmus, who was inaugurated as full professor in the Faculty of Law at Nelson Mandela University last year, cautions that justice must be adhered to.

Professor Deon Erasmus believes in justice. While he phrases it more elegantly, Erasmus thinks it is high time that justice be meted out to those found guilty of corruption. Not just because their actions are unlawful; corruption violates the rights of people.

Erasmus began his career as a public prosecutor, then senior prosecutor at the Department of Justice in Graaff-Reinet, then served as regional court prosecutor in East London. He was subsequently state advocate in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth.

In 1987 Erasmus became an advocate of the High Court of South Africa and a practising attorney in 1997.  As such, he has considerable experience to draw from, in addressing corruption.

Evidence of corruption

Transparency International, defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power, for private gain”. Professor Erasmus referred to a tweet posted on Twitter by Max Du Preez in 2019, which describes how pervasive corruption has become in South Africa:

“The most astonishing phenomenon of 2019 is that the utterly corrupt, who helped steal hundreds of billions and destroyed SOEs and the criminal justice system, are still strutting around unashamedly in public as if the last nine years never happened, and we let them”.

Corruption has wide reaching, negative repercussions on society. Professor Eramus cautioned, “The main effects; eroding of trust, weakening of democracy, and the hampering of economic development, further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and environmental crisis.” 

“The term state capture was first termed in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2000, according to a World Bank Report on Corruption. Hellman, Jones and Kaumann further point out in the report, that  some firms in transition economies were able to shape the rules of the game to their own advantage, at a considerable social cost by creating a captured economy.

“In this captured economy, public officials and politicians, privately sell under provided goods and arrange rent generating advantage to individual firms. The concept is applied more broadly nowadays,” said Professor Erasmus, “describing an array of dubious dealings, between corporations and governments worldwide.”        

“According to a report of 24 June 2021, issued by Unite for Mzanzi, headed by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants(SAICA), it is estimated that South Africa, due to corruption, lost close to R1.5 billion between 2014 and 2019.” 

Corruption has continued unabated. “The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Report into Digital Vibes COVID 19 Corruption, was released by The Presidency on 29 September 2021. This report implicates a number of senior Department of Health officials, including former Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize as well as ones of Digital Vibes,” Professor Erasmus reported.          

The release of the relief package led to corruption on a grand scale. The private sector was also complicit, abusing the procurement procedures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This led to the looting of billions of rands which should have been used in the response plan.

Professor Erasmus said, “While it is unlawful for public servants to do business with the state, the emergency regulation enabled corrupt government officials and politicians to misappropriate millions in dubious deals with corrupt companies who entered the PPE market.

Erasmus referred to a statement by Kingsley Tloubata, chairman of the Black Pharmaceuticals Industry Association (BPIA), who said, “Why did government now suddenly procure PPE goods from companies that normally operate as IT service providers, building contractors and engineering firms?”

Remedial measures

“The old legal maxim, “Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done”, must be adhered to, Professor Erasmus explained. “What is called for now, is the institution of criminal prosecutions against public officials, corrupt operators in the private sector, and politicians involved in corrupt activities.

“Government should employ mechanisms to ensure that goods and services are procured at reasonable prices. These mechanisms should be transparent, rigorously adhered to and conducted with meticulous oversight.”

Until such checks and balances are in place and criminal prosecutions are instituted against those  involved in criminal activities, unacceptable and unsustainable levels of poverty and inequality will prevail.

“Despite the promises, guarantees and obligations of the Constitution,” Professor Erasmus explained, “‘there remains widespread unemployment, lack of access to basic services for poor communities, and continued violation of people, causing persistent, economic, social and political unrest.”   

Corruption has become like a leaking tap left unattended. Resources that could have been invested in growing the economy and offering support to the poorest of the poor, have been lost forever.

Contact information
Professor Deon Erasmus
Head of Department
Tel: 27 41 504 9959
Deon.Erasmus@mandela.ac.za