Letter: Big state, big corruption

The news that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is "probing R13.3bn in contracts relating to the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE)" reinforces the daily reality of corruption in SA ("SIU calls for legislative reform to protect state from tender corruption", February 5). That corruption took place even in the midst of a global pandemic should teach us a crucial lesson as to just how big government has grown — and that it is high time for the country to reform the oversized role the state plays in our lives.

The more responsibility the state takes on — to provide for all manner of positive rights, goods and services — the greater the incentive is for individuals and businesses to try and gain the necessary political connections that 
their services will be favoured. The stakes attached to government influence and contracts are so high that people are encouraged to view government contracts as the only way to get ahead in life; we should not be surprised when we hear of corruption scandals as often as we do.

As long as the state plays an oversized — and fundamentally incorrect — role in the economy and our lives, the only kind of radical economic transformation witnessed will be that which benefits those with political connections. There can be no positive, radical growth in this context, and no real progress in terms of empowering SA citizens.

There has been talk of increasing punishments meted out to those caught in corruption deals. While this could discourage a few corrupt acts, in the long run it will simply increase the allure for criminal elements to influence the state, and in turn control the courts and criminal justice system. The truly effective medicine for the endemic corruption we see nowadays is to reduce the size and widespread role of the state.

This letter was first published on BusinessDay on 10 February 2021.

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