Three months after Athol Williams quit as the fixer of Bain & Company’s public image and ethical standards in SA, he has accused the US-based consultancy firm of attempting to silence and harass him from speaking about its role in the corrosive State Capture project.
Williams publicly resigned as Bain’s SA partner in October 2019 – barely six months in the top job – citing lack of full disclosure by the company about how it brought the SA Revenue Service (SARS) to its knees during the reign of former commissioner Tom Moyane from 2014 to 2018.
At the time of Williams’ resignation, he said:
“When I ask questions, I get shut down. As an internal person, as a partner who has to stand up publicly and say ‘they are doing the right thing’, for my own credibility, my own conscience and also for the good of SA, I couldn’t be part of that.”
Williams, a University of Cape Town lecturer specialising in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership, previously said he was prepared to testify at the Zondo commission about Bain’s role in State Capture during Jacob Zuma’s presidency. However, Williams said Bain has gone to “great lengths” over the past two months to “muzzle” him.
“It is obvious that they [Bain] have lots to hide,” he told Business Maverick.
In an attempt to keep him from talking, Williams said Bain has played a “carrot-and-stick game” by offering him money running into millions of rands, relocating him out of SA and funding his future business venture. Williams said Bain’s alleged offer was made with a condition that he never speaks about the company – but it also came with a threat.
“They mixed this [the offer to silence him] with legal threats, reminding me of my ‘ethical obligations’ to abide by the confidentiality agreements I entered into and mentioning that their lawyers will be ‘very aggressive in court’ if it came to that [not honouring confidentiality agreements].”
Bain was not available to comment at the time of publishing the article.
The latest revelations by Williams are a blow to the US firm’s efforts to contain the fallout from its shoddy work on SARS after it was awarded a tender in 2014 to restructure the tax agency by overhauling its IT infrastructure and changing its organisational/governance structure — without knowing how both functions previously operated.
Williams’ latest revelations will probably intensify calls for the National Treasury to ban government departments and state entities from doing any business with Bain and for US authorities to investigate the company under the country’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for wrecking SARS. Treasury’s deputy director-general for tax and financial sector policy, Ismail Momoniat, and Corruption Watch’s David Lewis have called for Bain to come clean about weakening SARS and for its local partners to be prosecuted through the act. Read more here.
Nugent’s commission of inquiry
The work of Bain at SARS featured prominently at Judge Robert Nugent’s commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance issues at the tax agency, which found that the consultancy firm colluded with Moyane to weaken the once world-class agency and damaged its capacity to collect tax revenue. This partly led to SA being subjected to its first VAT increase in more than 15 years.
The Nugent commission found that the Bain restructuring destroyed key SARS units, including its large business centre, legal and compliance units, and enforcement capacity. Some 200 senior managers were displaced and several skilled employees left SARS.
Vittorio Massone, the former SA head and managing partner of Bain, enjoyed enormous proximity to power. He met former president Jacob Zuma at his homestead in Nkandla around 2013 at least 12 times and was informed that Moyane would be appointed as SARS commissioner before this was made public.
Massone appeared before the Nugent commission once and snubbed further invitations — claiming he was sick and returning to his home in Italy to receive treatment, but he offered an affidavit instead. The commission found that Massone didn’t “tell the whole truth” and withheld information, as his version of events was “littered with perjury, both in what he said and in what he didn’t”.
Judge Nugent declared in his final report:
“We think what occurred can fairly be described as a premeditated offensive against SARS… Mr Moyane’s interest was to take control of SARS. Bain’s interest was to make money.”
Bain has dug in its heels, saying a “thorough” independent investigation into its engagements with SARS, which was commissioned by Bain and led by law firm Baker McKenzie, “did not find any evidence that Bain was involved in any scheme with Mr Moyane to damage SARS or that Bain withheld relevant evidence of any kind”. BM
The Hindenburg had a smoking room.