Business Maverick

Bain & Company’s link to State Capture claims another casualty as Athol Williams quits

By Ray Mahlaka 17 October 2019

Athol Williams, partner at Bain & Company’s global Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility (Photo: https://www.bain.com)

Williams, who was appointed in May 2019 to restore the credibility of Bain, publicly announced his resignation without informing the firm, a move that indicates that his departure was not on happy terms.

Athol Williams, who was appointed by Bain & Company in May 2019 to oversee the firm’s internal investigation into its role in the destruction of the SA Revenue Service (SARS), has resigned.

Williams publicly announced his resignation from Bain on Thursday 17 October at the Finance Indaba Africa in Sandton – almost six months after he agreed to join the firm as a partner in the Johannesburg office.

Williams, a University of Cape Town lecturer, said he publicly announced his resignation without informing Bain, a move that indicates that his departure was not on happy terms.

In giving reasons for his surprise resignation, Williams said he was facing an “amount of danger and pressure” linked to Bain’s role in accounting for its role in the destruction of the tax authority under the reign of former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane.

In an interview with Business Maverick on the sidelines of the Finance Indaba, Williams said Bain was withholding crucial information about its role in enabling the State Capture project.

I believe that Bain is withholding information about the restructuring of SARS and not being truthful about what it did in South Africa. Bain knows more than what they have told the public,” he said.

I really believed that Bain wanted to do the right thing when they hired me to develop ideas for remedy and developing a proper plan. I thought they were serious and were going to do the right thing.

Then I was hired. I got in the company and I got to ask questions and they were uncomfortable with the questions I asked. I am not getting the answers and it made me uncomfortable.”

Despite repeated calls and emails sent to Bain, the firm didn’t comment about Williams’ resignation.

Williams, whose job at Bain was to restore its tainted reputation and credibility, said he was also concerned that he was “used to legitimise the organisation as I was now one of the good guys”.

When asked exactly what Bain was not being truthful about, he said he’d rather not discuss it in public as the information is “sensitive”. Williams said he would be available to support Bain “to do the right thing” when it is ready to do so.

Williams was appointed in May 2019 to lead the firm’s corporate responsibility practice in SA and oversee the implementation of Bain’s remedy plan in South Africa. In 2018, Williams was working on Bain’s internal investigation on the work it did for SARS, but at the time he was only an adviser to the firm.

Bain, through its former South Africa head and managing partner, Vittorio Massone, was implicated at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry as one of the key figures in the destruction of SARS during Moyane’s reign.

Bain’s work on SARS was associated with a loss of capacity and technical skills at what was once regarded as a world-class tax agency. In the years after SARS was restructured, South Africa faced a shortfall in tax revenue that partly led to the country being subjected to its first VAT increase in more than 20 years.

The Nugent Commission found that the Bain restructuring resulted in the destruction of key SARS units, including its large business centre, its legal and compliance units, and its enforcement capacity. Some 200 senior managers were displaced and a number of skilled employees left SARS.

The commission was also scathing in its assessment of Bain’s work, saying that Massone met former president Jacob Zuma at least 12 times and was informed that Moyane would be appointed commissioner before it was made public.

Civil society group Corruption Watch is pushing for the criminal prosecution of Bain executives, including Massone, instead of Bain paying back the R217-million it received for the SARS tender as a remedy for its wrongdoing.

Corruption Watch’s executive director, David Lewis, said Williams’ disclosure about Bain withholding information constitutes more grounds for law enforcement authorities to investigate the modus operandi of the firm.

If they are hiding stuff from the person [Williams], who is one of their partners and was mandated to undertake an investigation, then the public has no chance of knowing the full extent of Bain’s involvement in SARS.

I think that the inference to draw from this is that there is much to hide. If the partner cannot get information out of them, then a subpoena could achieve that,” said Lewis. BM

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