AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele is worth R55-million. Speaking to media on Monday, she pre-empted the criticism likely to come her way and shifted the attention towards corruption and President Jacob Zuma. Ramphele is wealthy, there’s no denying it. But it’s not wealth that creates problems in politics; it’s a lack of transparency and conflict of interest. Is Zuma prepared to accept Agang’s challenge and open his books? Unlikely. By GREG NICOLSON.
So what does Ramphele, one of South Africa’s most esteemed citizens, earn? In the last three months of the tax year ending 28 February 2013, her income was R346,000, a “sizeable drop” since she resigned from company board positions. Ramphele’s net worth as of 27 June 2013 was over R55-million. That includes R1.3-million in shares in Anglo American, Gold Fields, Sibanye Gold and PTI Select Managers Funds. Her Cape Town property is valued at R10-million. She has pensions worth R2.6-million, a family trust worth R30-million and an investment trust worth almost R11-million. (She did not divulge the sources of all that trust money.)
The AgangSA leader made her finances public on Wednesday in the party’s Johannesburg offices. “If the South African people elect me into public office, my fellow citizens will be able to use this information to hold AgangSA accountable and avoid any conflict of interest,” said Ramphele. “I call on President Zuma to disclose his finances immediately. What is there to hide?”
Ramphele shifted focus from her wealth to the issue of corruption. Almost 20 years into democracy, many South Africans still don’t have access to essential basic services, quality jobs, education and healthcare. Ramphele argued that a corrupt ANC government is to blame. “It has been reported that during nearly 20 years of ANC government, up to R385-billion has been stolen from poor people due to corruption. The auditor general has recently reported that over R30-billion of taxpayer’s money was wasted or incorrectly used by government departments across the country in 2012 alone. This is a betrayal of the promise of freedom,” she said, focusing on Agang’s pledge to restore the hope of 1994.
In 2010, the public protector found Zuma had breached the executive ethics code by failing to declare his interests within 60 days of taking office. During his presidency, Zuma’s financial disclosures have raised more questions than they have answered.
The code, which was signed into law by then acting president Zuma, requires members of the executive to disclose their own financial interests as well as those of their spouse and dependent children. They must reveal shares and financial interests in companies, financial sponsorships, gifts worth more than R350, foreign travel paid for by state or party, land owned and pensions.
“President Zuma has used a convenient technicality to side step this requirement,” said Ramphele on Wednesday. “From his inauguration on 9 May 2009, the President has dodged the issue for 1,565 days to date and with each passing day suspicion about his integrity can only grow.”
President spokesperson Mac Maharaj wouldn’t comment on Ramphele’s challenge but said Zuma is required to declare his interests annually to the cabinet secretary. For further information on Zuma’s financial disclosures he referred Daily Maverick to the secretary of cabinet, who could not be reached Wednesday.
The full extent of Zuma’s finances would be messy. Reporting on Zuma’s 2010 disclosure, the Mail & Guardian wrote: “What is clear is that the president failed to openly disclose companies for which he still listed as a director, gifts received during eight months of the year, his and his wives’ benefactors in the cases of more than a dozen gifts, his own properties and whether or not he has a pension.”
A KPMG report prepared for Zuma’s corruption trial described the president’s habit of taking loans and donations, which looked to create a conflict of interest. Zuma’s Nkandla home has also created controversy and his wives are said to own multiple properties. A financial disclosure would have to declare all such assets, donations and loans. Zuma does not have to declare the finances of his non-dependent children, which may mean some details are left out.
Ramphele herself has been criticised for her wealth. She amassed her fortune through positions on company boards and top jobs in the World Bank and at the University of Cape Town. When she launched her “political party platform” Cosatu asked how AgangSA’s comments on reform could be taken seriously given her role as the former chair of Gold Fields. Others have questioned whether her wealth and age makes her distant from South African voters.
“Being comfortable or having a measure of wealth is not a barrier to linking with poor people,” Ramphele responded on Wednesday. “What is a barrier is abuse of power and stealing from poor people which this government has done over the last 20 years.” Nkandla, she said, is a gross display of corruption.
In a recent paper from the Institute of Security Studies, Shireen Mukadom explained the link between disclosure and corruption. “Financial disclosure is admittedly not a panacea in the fight against corruption, but if used effectively is one step closer to revealing the opaque nature of the deals that go on behind closed doors. As much as it is an instrument to deter corruption, its implementation and enforcement is also indicative of public officials’ commitment to transparency and accountability, which promotes public trust in government.
Ultimately, accurate and comprehensive financial disclosure demonstrates that officials have nothing to hide and that their private business interests are not influencing officials’ public decisions.”
Members of parliament have until Friday to submit their financial interests. In the lead up to the 2014 elections, Ramphele’s wealth was likely to be used against her. By trying to control the situation she has put her interests on the table before her detractors could. Given the extent of financial deals and assets reportedly linked to Zuma, it’s unlikely the president could do the same. DM
Photo: AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele at the party’s Johanensburg offices on Wednesday. (Greg Nicolson)
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