South Africa


Stop excusing ‘bad conduct’ like graft, so economy can recover and grow, says ex-finance minister Mboweni

Illustrative image: Former Minister Tito Mboweni. (Photo by Gallo Images/Rapport/Elizabeth Sejake) and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. (Photo: Flickr)

To rebuild South Africa, good leadership must emerge in all sectors of society, according to former finance minister Tito Mboweni, delivering a hard-hitting Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Values-Based Leadership annual lecture hosted by Rhodes University.

“Essential to our recovery is that we need to stop excusing bad behaviour amongst those in leadership positions. Criminality, lying, abusive behaviour, exploitation of others and the refusal to be accountable are not traits to be glorified.”

Not mentioning any names, and situating South Africa in a global context where few counties, if any, have escaped the impact on Covid-19, Mboweni nevertheless did not mince his words. 

“In our formally progressive organisations, we witness political and factionalism with formerly good comrades adopting a scorched earth outlook — not due to a desire to serve our people better, but to abuse positions of power to plunder public funds,” he said at one stage.

If anyone used their position, be that in the church, business, government or any organisation to steal, they contributed to the erosion of society.

“There is no ‘excusable’ corruption. Whatever the form of corruption, it is imperative that the perpetrators are pursued and face the full wrath of the law. It is only then that we can halt the pervasive rot in all sectors of our society.”

Corruption, greed and pursuit of wealth rather than public service have created a crisis in government — and “a malevolent culture in our society that is becoming more and more difficult to undo”. And dysfunctional municipalities and State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) frustrated the country’s objective to grow, and transform, the economy, said Mboweni.

Out of Cabinet for two months now, the former finance minister — and ex-labour minister and the 8th governor of the South African Reserve Bank — hinted at difficult choices, discussions and decisions. It was a four-year stint at the helm of the finance portfolio that left him feeling like “a war veteran, having had to lead the fight to protect public resources from abuse and waste”.

High unemployment and poverty were compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic that triggered heavy losses of jobs, incomes and livelihoods. The conversations not only in South Africa, but also internationally and within Africa, were how best to mitigate the negative impacts. The “hard” decision amid many sleepless nights, as Mboweni put it, was to reallocate Budgets to support the health systems and to relief packages. 

“It is a great betrayal that our efforts to save lives and support livelihoods were undermined by shameful and exploitative acts of corruption. All the systems we have in place to protect much-needed resources and prevent looting can only go so far when there are people who seek to manipulate processes to steal public funds.

“Sadly, there are too many people in positions of leadership and power throughout the global political, economic and financial system, who do not seem to realise the consequences of participating in or condoning corruption.”

And while “formerly good comrades” pursued “scorched earth” self-gain from public funds, Mboweni said it was “highly disturbing” how those caught up in the looting resort to populist and dangerous rhetoric.

“Some claim victimhood while others see fit to incite violence. Such people are not leaders. History is replete with instances where countries descended into chaos due to the treachery by some people with corrupt intent exploiting their followers.”

Mboweni stressed that virtue could be found in leadership living simply, and eschewing the temptation to chase ill-gotten wealth.

And to focus on South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that was announced in October 2020 in Parliament that includes structural reforms for better economic performance — and poverty reduction and job creation — but also to ensure the real active participation of previously disadvantaged South Africans in the economy.

The basis of sustainable long-term economic growth is found in the building blocks National Treasury has outlined, including improved educational outcomes, youth employment initiatives alongside effective and affordable public transport, and targeted urban development to overcome apartheid spatial legacies. Put simply, a capable state supported by a social compact to balance policy and stability to attract investment.

Mboweni argued that more planning was not needed, nor was guesswork. What is required was for leadership to get the basics right and fix what’s gone wrong. That meant schools and hospitals that are fit for purpose, keeping neighbourhoods clean, rooting out a culture of illegality, and paying for services used.

“True leaders cannot exist in ivory towers, shutting off from the world around us… We cannot drive past garbage-strewn streets and overflowing sewers and not seek to resolve the governance failures that cause such problems,” said Mboweni. DM


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All Comments 11

  • If Tito had been even slightly interested in exposing corruption he would have much more to say than this. Unfortunately he’s the same as CR and simply says “I’m clean but beware there are sharks out there’. It’s not as if we didn’t know.

  • He is saying the right things. But can his ANC colleagues actually lead in this way (or is there any political will to lead in this way)? Ramaphosa said many of the right things when he was elected president, but he has failed completely to actually lead in this way. What South Africa needs is not more words, but for someone to come up with that elusive magic potion that will put some real leadership actions into play.

    • Yes, plus another fifty like him. The NEC needs new (younger) blood. I say younger because the ones I encounter seem to be more sensible about policies that don’t work, more ashamed of what happened under Zuptas and as impatient about the pace of change & prosecutions.

  • We’ll need many smart, disciplined, technically competent and uncompromising people with clean hands and pure hearts to put this on track….

  • What this analysis fails to do, is note how sections of the legal fraternity are operating in cahoots with and defending those responsible for corruption. It has even infected parts of the judiciary … in a position as high as the CJ ! Just look at the two disgraceful nominees for that position nominated by none other than the BLA, which had the gall to motivate their nomination with specious and selective arguments, ignoring the numerous instances of despicable behaviour the individuals have been a party to ! Choosing an ethical path is not the same as the legal one ! There are far too many scoundrels hiding behind that facade !

  • What he says is correct, but he provides solutions. The ANC has already come up with the solution and implemented it repeatedly. (They just don’t like the idea of living up to the standards they set for others.) Our government led by the ANC has created numerous laws significantly raising the competence, integrity and accountability standards in numerous sectors of society including financial services, property and others. Section 47 of the Constitution sets out the admission criteria for Members of the National Assembly. Our cabinet ministers are selected from these MP’s. There is NO COMPETENCY requirement to become an MP. No literacy or numeracy skills (As we saw with JZ) So the people managing this complex economy don’t have to know how to read, let alone understand economics and law. Then there is the integrity standard. It is set so so low that even individuals with criminal records may serve, as long as they are not sentenced to prison for more than a year. Section 47 needs to be pulled in line with the fit and proper standards contained in the FAIS Act. After all, our MP’s voted the FAIS Act into law so they must have thought it was good for the South African public. It’s time for them to live by the same standards.

  • Therein lies the problem – he sees corruption, theft and dishonesty as “bad behaviour”. Outside the ANC, people see this as rampant criminality.

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