AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Zondo concerned by no sign of public procurement anti-corruption agency 16 months after State Capture report
‘If another group of people were to do exactly what the Guptas did to pursue State Capture, Parliament would still not be able to stop it – and that is simply because I have seen nothing that has changed,’ said Judge Raymond Zondo.
It will be “a pity” if President Cyril Ramaphosa ultimately decides against establishing a public procurement anti-corruption agency which would make a dent in the country’s skyrocketing corruption levels, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Thursday.
In 2022, Zondo stressed the need for a structure that would be free from political oversight and be able to “combat corruption with fresh and concentrated energy”. He said the fight against corruption in public procurement ought not to be “left to a government department or be subject to ministerial control”.
Speaking virtually, at the joint Public Affairs Research Institute and Council for the Advancement of the Constitution conference in Johannesburg, Zondo suggested that little progress had been made by the government 16 months after he handed in the final installment of the 5,500-page report.
He highlighted several areas of concern, including protection of whistle-blowers, establishment of a portfolio committee in the presidency, and the establishment of an independent, public procurement anti-corruption agency.
“It would be a pity if ultimately the president does not embrace this decision of a public procurement anti-corruption agency because, of all the recommendations made by the commision, in my view, that was the most important one.”
He acknowledged that Ramaphosa had not objected to the establishment of the structure, but questioned why it was not mentioned in the Public Procurement Bill – a law that will shape the country’s tender processes.
Daily Maverick and amaBhungane have investigated hundreds of instances of tender corruption, from the #GuptaLeaks to Karpowership, EOH to toilets in Ekurhuleni, Sassa to CPS, and looting at Transnet and Eskom.
It is clear that tender processes are easily abused as a vehicle for patronage and corruption.
“It is strange that the Procurement Bill does not refer to it, yet in his response last year, the President said the Bill would accommodate most of the recommendations of the commission on public procurement,” Zondo said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s Public Procurement Bill fails to address systemic vulnerability to tender corruption
In 2022, Ramaphosa indicated that the presidency supported and would implement most of the recommendations of the commission. Zondo, however, said there were only four out of more than 10 recommendations that seemed to have been given effect in the Public Procurement Bill.
Another recommendation made by the commission was that whistle-blowers not only be protected but also compensated for their efforts in curbing corruption.
“In my view, we have to work hard to make sure that we grow the population of whistle-blowers in this country if we have any hope of bringing down the levels of corruption, and if we are going to grow the population of whistle-blowers, we need to give incentives for them to report corruption.
“Some complain that people will then report wrongdoing because they want money, but I say, so what? If they disclose corruption and the country recovers money it might otherwise not be able to cover, what is the problem if they disclose this information because they want money?
“It would appear that the department of justice is doing something with regard to the protection of whistle-blowers, the question is simply whether it is enough.”
‘Recommendations taken seriously’
National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council chairperson Firoz Cachalia was of the view that although the government was doing all it could to implement the recommendations, there were challenges of overlapping mandates on some issues.
“The implementation of the Zondo Commission recommendations is, in my view, being taken seriously by the government. The director-general [in the Presidency] has invited the council to participate in the DG’s forum precisely because we have overlapping mandates. If we are considering whistle-blowing and questions of institutional design, so is the department of justice.
“So, we have to make sure that we are in a dialogue with them, and that in considering the various steps that have to be taken in the process of implementing, obviously we have to be working with the departments while protecting our independence,” said Cachalia.
While Zondo would not directly respond to questions on whether current measures and legislation were on track in implementing the commission’s report, he was previously critical of the role of Parliament.
In June, he expressed fears around Parliament being incapable of preventing another bid to capture the state, putting the blame squarely on the ANC, which holds the majority in Parliament.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Parliament is incapable of preventing another State Capture bid, says Chief Justice Zondo
Zondo said State Capture “unequivocally” placed the country’s democracy at risk.
“If another group of people were to do exactly what the Guptas did to pursue State Capture, Parliament would still not be able to stop it, and that is simply because I have seen nothing that has changed,” Zondo said.
Before Zondo concluded his keynote address, he lauded the role played by the private sector in putting pressure on the government to implement recommendations.
Among others, he singled out Business Unity South Africa which recently concluded a memorandum of understanding with the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that some recommendations were implemented. He also cited Business Leadership South Africa for the role it played, together with Gibs Business School, to produce an anti-corruption manual for companies in SA, offering guidance on how to tackle corruption.
The guide, according to Zondo, will go a long way to making a dent in corruption in the workplace.
“Your role in the fight against corruption is noticed, please continue… There are going to be challenges on the road ahead as all of us who fight corruption continue our fight.
“It is not a rewarding job, but all of us need to do it for this country.” DM