A facade of fighting graft

 

9 August 2020

If Magashule is believed, we won’t win this one A facade of fighting graft

Assurances this week by special investigating unit (SIU) boss Andy Mothibi that the investigation into Eskom has been “very thorough” seem a welcome tonic to quell a surge in public finance management discontent.

As criticism against the state’s ability to keep our leaders’ hands off the public till were becoming effusive,  summons against former executives and one former minister, Bongani Bongo, were issued.


Eskom has been a hotbed of corruption and deliberately poorly structured agreements or deals meant to benefit some. The entity, with a debt of over R450-billion, is a singular threat to our fiscus. Mothibi told the nation that the SIU has been working closely with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which, he said, will probably follow criminal
action with civil suits to ensure funds lost through corruption are retrieved.

This was a positive development, following too, the arrests of officials involved in VBS looting. So weary are people with corruption that any progress will help calm the nation’s nerves – right? Wrong!

Let me explain.

While the progress is welcomed, Mothibi and his colleagues in the criminal justice cluster will find a nation cynical and unwilling to celebrate his breakthrough. This is because of two main reasons.

The first is that those against whom action is taken are, invariably, mere officials generally assumed to be working under instruction from political principals who remain untouched by investigators. The system is designed to protect the masterminds. The officials are
arrested to create a veneer of a fight against corruption when the feeding frenzy is firmly under way.

The context is clear: the Jacob Zuma administration faced its inevitable demise because it was evident it was set for rejection by the general populace. Ramaphosa, on the back of anti-corruption rhetoric and about a R1-billion kitty to influence party members, managed a slim victory at the ANC national conference in 2017.

With each passing month, and halfway past his ANC term as a leader, he doesn’t have much to show for his main election ticket – fighting corruption. Yes, he has established commissions of inquiry to write reports. Of late, he has decided not to appoint another commission of inquiry into COVID-19 corruption scandal – but an inter-ministerial team. This is really his limitation. Instead of being decisive, he appoints commissions and ministerial investigations the effect of which is to stall real criminal investigations that must be prioritised and supported.

Even the thorough breakthrough by Mothibi is, in essence, a recommendation to the NPA that must, if agreed, take action. And it is action that many are angling for on the ground. They want to see arrests, not just of the lowly officials, but of everybody involved. Mothibi and his colleagues are correct to arrest and penalise officials who are directly involved in the misuse of funds.

Where these officials are working with politicians, it is hoped they will rat on their handlers as they realise that the politicians are incapable of extricating them from a certain stint behind bars.

It’s really doubtful that our politicians are really, really committed to fight corruption but are impeded by clever officials. So, the view is that the officials arrested are sacrificial lambs, the runners and not the brains behind the machinations. Arresting them doesn’t move us an inch toward resolving this cancer. And therein lies our second main reason why the little anti-corruption progress is not celebrated: our leaders send very
conflicting messages.

Ramaphosa tells us that those who fleece the public purse will and must face the full might of the law. And then his organisation, the ANC, tells us through its secretary-general, Ace Magashule: “Tell me of one leader of the ANC who has not done business with government.”

Wait. What?

Yet, the Public Service Commission and the auditor-general have repeatedly said it is unethical for friends and relatives of those in power to do business with the state. And if so high an authority in the ANC speaks so glibly about so serious a matter, why would ordinary supply chain officials at every level of government take ethics seriously?

An SA FM caller is reported by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper this week as saying: “I am in a war with myself. We are black people, and we are so hungry, and the little there is, is taken over by political leaders. I used to love this organisation [ANC], but it is now a shame for our nation … a politician’s son gets a tender. So many people at grassroots trying to get tenders but are never considered,” she said. Magashule’s sons are reported to have received COVID-19 tenders – tenders not advertised but just awarded using emergency regulations.

The point is who must take Ramaphosa seriously when he talks about “the war against corruption” when his own party contradicts him publicly. What war is this when, according to Magashule, every leader of the ANC is using their influence to do business with the state?

On the surface, the only ones who get punished are officials and, of course, that spent force Bongo. Mondli Makhanya writes that Ramaphosa is nothing more than a glorified spokesman of the government. But the saddest thing is that the PR is not even working. He gets contradicted and yes, there will be no consequences and no retraction by Magashule.

And if Magashule’s statement that there is no leader of the ANC who has not done business with the state is true, then statements by the likes of Mothibi about Eskom and other investigations being “thorough” serve no meaningful purpose. We are in too deep.

 

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