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SA must do more to fight corruption if it wants to get climate finance

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As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) unfolds in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, realistic talks are needed on the implementation of South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contribution, a climate action plan to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

South Africa has taken various steps to comply with Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), such as funding research, development and innovation programmes; finalize the Climate Change Bill; establish the Presidential Task Force on Climate Finance and adopt the Just Transition Framework and the National Adaptation Strategy.

In her opening remarks during the negotiations ahead of COP27 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last month, the minister for forests, fisheries and the environment, Barbara Creecy, said there had been a “failure on the part of developed countries to meet with its commitment to mobilize $100 billion by 2020”. This pointed to the need for developed countries to provide financing for a just transition and limit international financing that exacerbates Africa’s indebtedness.

Despite Africa’s negligible contribution to climate change, the continent is severely affected in some regions due to multiple factors including underdevelopment, low adaptive capacity, heavy reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, and limited access to finance and technology.

Creecy rightly stressed that “we need everyone to show progress in implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions and we need new finance for our just transitions, including direct budget support for developing countries to build adaptation and resilience.”

This is important because African countries need substantial investment to adapt to climate change. Financing from the multilateral and international private sector is crucial.

But there are concerns about how South Africa’s NDCs and climate change interventions are disjointed from socio-economic realities and how calls for climate finance fail to take into account issues of corruption in South Africa’s public finances.

It is one thing for the country to apply for climate finance, but it is quite another for developed countries and private sector financiers to contribute public finance if South Africa cannot manage the money without embezzlement.

Last year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana warned that rampant corruption was a persistent problem draining public finances. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, corruption disrupted the advancement of key social and economic rights, such as education, job creation, business activities, and digital access.

Several cases of corruption in public procurement are being investigated. For example, the Special Investigation Unit is investigating R14.8bn worth of procurement irregularities associated with Covid-19 spending from April 2020 to June last year.

South Africa is trying to combat corruption in various ways.

Among the steps taken are the Zondo State Capture Investigation Commission which exposed institutional weaknesses; task forces have been established in various provinces to deal with extortion and violence on construction sites; the Fusion Center of the Center for Financial Intelligence was established to act against fraud and corruption in the acquisition of goods and services related to Covid; The National Anti-Corruption Strategy has been adopted and the Political Parties Financing Law will help regulate the public and private financing of political parties.

Despite this, South Africa is not doing enough to combat corruption in the public sector. Major regulatory and supervisory agencies are underfunded and poorly run. This can have dire consequences, especially for the provision of public services.

The most vulnerable people are the most negatively affected. Corrupt activities redirect money intended for key sectors into the hands of greedy leaders who do not prioritize public services to help those who need it most.

In addition, South Africa has made slow progress in recovering assets lost to state capture and corruption and in bringing those responsible for such corruption to justice. This, in turn, affects the government’s ability to redirect those funds to the provision of essential services.

The adequate provision of financial resources for the public institutions in charge of anti-corruption work is vital to avoid losses in public finances.

This will be important for tracking the spending of international and multilateral private sector finance for climate adaptation and resilience.

It is essential to have an effective legal or regulatory instrument that creates an enabling environment to implement climate change and environmental sustainability programs, while maintaining transparency and accountability in the management of funds.

Incorporating the implementation of programs that involve direct financial management and accountability by multilateral institutions, civil society organizations and governments of other countries, through their embassies or consulates, is something that our government must consider in order to build effective accountability systems.

For South Africa and other African countries, the climate finance conversation must be accompanied by the implementation of anti-corruption instruments to mitigate the appropriation of public funds from multilateral institutions and the international private sector.

As long as African countries do not tackle corruption effectively, their calls to release climate finance for the purpose of adaptation and climate resilience may end up being ineffective.

Karabo Mokgonyana is a legal and development professional and Program Director of Sesi Fellowship and Skill Hub.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian..

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