"WE need leaders who stand up for what’s right, irrespective of the consequences,” embattled former National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli said in Port Elizabeth last night.
Pikoli, who attributed the country’s crippling corruption levels to a lack of ethical and principled leadership, said South Africa had developed into a kleptocratic state, losing R30-billion a year in social services corruption.
He highlighted a need to buck the trend if the "constitutional promise of a better life for all” was to be delivered.
Pikoli lambasted political leaders for their apparent abuse of the notion of "innocent until proven guilty”, saying that if government officials were accused of misconduct they should step down while the probe was under way.
"Corruption is anti-constitution and is extremely costly and requires strong political will,” he said.
"Look at Port Elizabeth, for instance. Walmer is burning because of housing delivery protests. There shouldn’t be such protests because it is not like housing is not budgeted for.
"Denialism is the new ‘ism’ and the order of the day. We sometimes hear our leaders saying ‘there is no crisis’, when there clearly is one.
"Often we see political leaders steal public funds today, but still occupy their office tomorrow. The next day they are appointed to higher office ... to do more damage to the economy.”
Pikoli said the leadership vacuum and lack of accountability contributed to the increasing levels of corruption that were ruining South Africa.
"Government is always claiming to be clamping down on corruption, yet we’ve seen an increase, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Index,” he said.
"In 2010, we ranked number 54 on the index, but last year we were at number 64. Why can’t we be in the top 10? Or even top the list at number one?
"To deliver on the constitutional promise of a better life for all, we need to decisively deal with fraud and corruption as they deplete the very resources needed to deliver on that promise.”
He said corruption was rife not only in the public sector but also in private companies, where "greed and price fixing” were quite prominent.
"We need to fight it with equal zeal. The reason more emphasis is placed on public sector corruption is that government has a higher moral ground and is expected to carry out the mandate of the people.
"We need [business, political and community] leaders who stand up for what’s right, irrespective of the consequences.”
Pikoli, who began his talk at the monthly Coega Business Forum last night by quoting news articles about fraud and corruption, lost his job at one of South Africa’s top five auditing firms, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo (SNG), four months ago due to alleged political interference from members of the ANC.
In a tell-all interview with the Mail & Guardian more than a month ago, Pikoli told how he was fired from SNG because "some ANC people” had threatened to cut off government contracts if he remained in its employ.
He headed the NPA at a turbulent time in politics, with former police commissioner Jackie Selebi facing corruption charges and ANC president Jacob Zuma on trial for the alleged rape of an HIV-positive woman.
In 2007, Pikoli was suspended by then president Thabo Mbeki two weeks after he issued a warrant of arrest for Selebi – Mbeki’s confidante. After Mbeki’s untimely resignation, Pikoli was fired by his successor, Kgalema Motlanthe, who was a Zuma ally.