Friday, October 26, 2012

Up to R30bn in State Money Stolen

David Lewis

25 October 2012
Governments are failing to tackle entrenched violence and corruption: International crime conference considers success factors for addressing crime in Africa

Leading international researchers are today examining why government policies on crime are failing and what could be done to affect improvements. They are speaking at the third annual international crime reduction conference, hosted by the Crime and Justice Programme of the Institute for Security Studies. Some of the key themes arising concern the government's tendency to provide simplistic solutions to the factors that lead to violence and corruption. For example, by relying on the police as the primary response to emerging challenges of crime and violence. This approach simply does not work in most contexts and can lead to other destructive consequences such as increased police brutality and repression.

Paul-Simon Handy, Deputy Executive Director at Institute for Security Studies, opened, saying: "Violence, crime and corruption have the potential to severely undermine a country's development. To develop good criminal justice policy we need to better understand crime by exploring the complicated social, cultural, economic and political factors that drive or hinder it."

"The work presented comes at a time where we, particularly in South Africa, need to reflect on the issues which potentially threaten our democracy, our freedom and our future." These include increased levels of public violence as a desperate response of communities who have had enough of corruption and resulting service delivery failure by the state. Sadly, as the Marikana tragedy highlights, those with political power were quick to deploy state violence to respond to a problem that needed understanding, compassion and negotiation.
Dr Anthony Collins, University of Kwazulu Natal said that whilst we may criticise violence, SA is a fundamentally violent society, which sees violence as an acceptable way of solving problems. Research has shown that 90% of people support hitting children; 80% support the death penalty; 74% think violence is appropriate in interpersonal relationships; and 60% of young adults think coercion is appropriate in sexual encounters. We only dislike violence when we are the victims but think it is appropriate to use against others. The failure to draw the link between acceptable and unacceptable violence is behind our policy failure in addressing violence in society.

Solutions start with children, and ensuring they become healthy, non-violent adults. Professor Mark Tomlinson, Stellenbosch University presented research showing that home based mother-infant intervention using community health workers significantly improved mothers interaction with their children, and their children were therefore less likely to experience insecurity in their attachment to the parent. Insecure attachment has been found to be associated with high rates of behavioural problems such as bullying and violence.
Looking at how we address this problem as young people enter society, Chandre Gould, Senior Researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said that if we are to reduce crime and violence in South Africa, we need to reduce the barriers for young people to enter the economy. Many young people lack both the hard and soft skills to enter the job market. This problem is exacerbated by the high levels of violence children are exposed to in their homes as a result of high levels of domestic violence.

This exposure results in depression, fear, anger and anxiety that impacts on young people's ability to cope, make friends, and engage in constructive civic activities. Interventions at a community level are one way to address these problems. There are enormous challenges to non-governmental organisations who seek to support young people. However, by rethinking how local initiatives could be better supported by the state, for example by providing predictability in funding, there is potential for great opportunities to strengthen resilience amongst our youth.

Discussing the role of legislation in addressing violence, Bill Dixon of Keele University, UK, said that governments like to legislate because it looks as if they are doing something about an emerging crime problem. However, legislation can't just overturn social or organisational culture. Hate crime legislation for example, where it has been implemented, is open to interpretation and can be a double edged sword to be misused by the police to punish ‘troublemakers', rather than to more fairly punish genuine hate crimes.

Furthermore legally entrenching differences based on race, gender or sexuality can be profoundly unhelpful. The counter argument was that legislation can provide vulnerable groups with leverage to advocate for greater attention to be given to a problem of discrimination.

Gareth Newham, Head of the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies, considered the threats to the rule of law in South Africa. In addition to ongoing statements made by powerful politicians attacking the judiciary, there is a profound absence in political will to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system.

The carefully considered recommendation emerging from a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in 2007 have largely been ignored by the current administration. Rather than appointing skilled and experienced people with integrity to head the police and the prosecuting authority, and strengthen these agencies, the opposite has happened.
Those appointed have inadequate experience and in the case of NPA head Menzi Simelane, were known beforehand to lack integrity. As a result of poor leadership, these agencies have been engulfed in controversy rather than improving public safety. Arguably, this is happening because corruption at the highest levels of political power.

The police made 1.6 million arrests in the last year. Most of these arrests were against poor people for crimes less serious than shoplifting. In spite of up to R30 billion in public money being lost to corruption each year, the police only made 56 arrests and achieved 11 convictions for crimes covered by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act. It is increasingly clear why professional people who are known for their integrity and expertise are not being appointed to head up the police or the National Prosecuting Authority.

Statement issued by David Lewis, Proof Communication, on behalf of the Institute of Security Studies, October 25 2012

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