The recently launched Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum (IBACF) by Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille, in partnership with various private sector bodies, public entities and civil society, marks a significant step in the fight against corruption in the construction industry.But, says Databuild CEO Morag Evans, unless a culture of zero tolerance is instilled across the construction value chain, the newly established forum has little chance of succeeding. “All too often the blame is laid at government’s door when it comes to corrupt activities, especially where tender manipulation and the solicitation of bribes by public officials are concerned. And while these allegations may be legitimate, other industry role players are not always above reproach. “Collusion and price-fixing among larger construction companies to the detriment of smaller and emerging competitors has been known to happen, and it’s not unheard of for smaller contractors and sub-contractors to engage in fronting and kickbacks in order to secure a project contract.” The outcome of these fraudulent and unethical activities is more often than not the appointment of incompetent service providers, together with the insufficient allocation of labour and resources to projects. According to Evans, this results in hazardous working conditions on-site and jeopardises the health and safety of workers. “Additionally, sub-standard work and the use of inferior building materials mean projects are often not completed or become subject to increased maintenance. This leads to increased public spending.” The solution, she says, lies in increased transparency in both the public and private sectors, especially around procurement processes, and a more proactive approach towards detecting and reporting instances of fraud and corruption.
“Companies and public officials should be held accountable for their unethical and, in some instances, criminal behaviour and be subjected to harsh penalties and even imprisonment.”Evans echoes De Lille’s sentiments that whistle blowers should be financially incentivised to come forward with information pertaining to corrupt activities that could lead to successful prosecution. “The sad reality is that whistle blowers are hesitant to come forward because they not only fear retribution but also lack confidence in the judicial system, believing that ineffective, or even no action will be taken. “Consequently, it is imperative that anyone who has the courage to disclose wrongful actions is fully protected from victimisation, and is given the assurance that the information they provide will lead to prosecution and punitive sanctions.” Evans concludes: “The construction industry plays a critical role in South Africa’s economic recovery, but rampant corruption weakens industry competitiveness, which in turn severely destabilises economic growth in our country and discourages foreign direct investment. “It’s time to draw a line in the sand. The industry needs to stand together to put an end to this scourge. Policies, legislation and forums are all good and well, but unless all the talking is backed by resolute and decisive action the fraud and corruption will continue unabated.”