Protection of whistleblowers is crucial to tackling corruption in SA

04 July 2019 3 min. read
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Speaking at a ‘Business Against Corruption’ event in Johannesburg, Maganing Director of FTI Consulting South Africa Petrus Marais has urged that generating an environment that encourages speaking up is essential to tackle the growing menace of corruption in the South African market.

Corruption is currently high on the agenda for discussion in South Africa, given the boom in malpractice incidents in recent years. Last year, Big Four accounting and advisory firm PwC released a report that placed South Africa at the top of the list when it comes to economic crime across the globe.

The numbers appear to reflect the reality in the country. A number of major corporations spanning the power, aviation, retail and consulting industries have all been implicated in scandals of varying nature in recent years, causing severe damage to individual firms and the economy as a whole.

The Gupta scandal is one example, which has implicated major consultancies as well as high ranking government officials all the way to the former President Zuma. The collapse of Steinhoff International and the financial strife at SARS are other examples of major incidents in recent years.

Business Agains Corruption

As the dust settles, a number of high-profile firms in the country are looking to rebrand themselves to mitigate and reverse the reputational damage that they have suffered as a result of the scandals. Petrus Marais of FTI Consulting has called for a shift in perspective to tackle the rampant corruption issue in South Africa.

“It’s seldom that the participants in a corrupt transaction will have a ‘Damascus road’ moment and blow the whistle or go public. That means having to look for evidence from peripheral observers as opposed to direct participants and piecing the circumstantial evidence together. Organisations need to create as safe as possible an environment for those that have the courage to speak out and raise their hands when they see or suspect something corrupt. It also requires a responsive and effective criminal justice system,” said Marais at the Business Against Corruption event in Johannesburg last week.

“My plea is for organisations to get to the point where witnesses find it easier to speak out and instigate a quicker reaction to corruption. You can get a case to the point that it is a packaged set of facts that can sustain legal or criminal action, but the ability to get that into the local court and get action is very challenged,” he added.

As a result, despite the fact that an increasing number of firms in South Africa are willing to investigate and clamp down on corrupt activity, the process of calling firms out can be highly frustrating. Marais positions reforms in this regard as crucial to changing the economic scenario in South Africa.