South 2 North

Is society inherently corrupt?

A look at the global arms industry and the effect corruption has on our politics, society and culture.
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2013 08:39
No subject is off limits in the first ever global talk show hosted from Africa in which Redi Tlhabi talks frankly to inspiring and intriguing personalities from across the world.

Bribery, fraud and dishonest conduct by people in power - corruption is a cancer in society, no matter where you live. But who are the guilty parties? Is corruption becoming socially accepted? And what can we do about it?

On this episode of South2North, Redi Tlhabi takes a look at the effect corruption has on our politics, society and culture.

Redi talks to Andrew Feinstein, a former parliamentarian and co-founder of Corruption Watch UK, an organisation dedicated to exposing bribery and corruption. Feinstein is also a whistleblower on illegal arms deals and the author of the book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, that investigates the dark side of this trillion-dollar industry.

Feinstein explains why corruption in the global arms trade has interested him specifically:

“It’s estimated that the trade in weapons accounts for around 40 percent of all corruption in all world trade .…The thing that I think is so important about it is it runs to the core of the way we’re governed, because the trade in weapons is extremely closely tied into the mechanics of government. The defence manufacturers, those who make the weapons, are closely tied in to governments, to militaries, to intelligence agencies and crucially to political parties. So they have enormous influence.”

While Feinstein acknowledges that there is a security need for countries to have arms, he points out that the nature of the trade calls for greater transparency and regulation.

“The global trade in weapons is regulated less than the global trade in bananas. We’re producing something that kills people. Surely it should be amongst the most highly regulated products that are produced on this planet.”

Feinstein laughs off the over 2,000 footnotes in his book, explaining that he does not say anything that he cannot back up. He explains that even in the notoriously dangerous industry, people want to talk to him, and that he has even used Facebook to find ex-arms traders.

Asked about indexes that indicate that people perceive developing countries to be more corrupt, Feinstein explains that corruption is everywhere, including the US and Europe.

“I think corruption in those countries is simply more sophisticated.”

South2North is also joined by Zwelinzima Vavi, the head of the largest workers union in Africa and anti-corruption activist; and Dr Dilip Menon, an expert on Indian corruption from the Centre for Indian Studies in Johannesburg.

Vavi has dealt with corporates and government in his role as the general secretary of Africa’s largest workers union Cosatu.

He says: “Unless people in power fear the police, the judiciary and the media, you have lost the fight. It’s always absolutely critical to have a mobilised citizenship who are ready to confront the most powerful in society - without that, I’m sorry, but we’ll lose the fight.”

Both Feinstein and Vavi have lost friends and upset colleagues with their anti-corruption stances. They have also both received death threats.

“That was very hard personally, but the issue with me is that I’ve tried to differentiate my own experience from the issues,” says Feinstein.

Vavi pointed to the murders in Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa, explaining that it is not about hostility towards whistleblowers anymore, but real threat.

Dr Menon has written extensively around corruption in his home India. Menon believes that corruption is viewed as something necessary in the developing world, as something that has to be tolerated in order to become an economically successful country.


South2North can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 1930; Saturday: 1430; Sunday: 0430; Monday: 0830.


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