Nkandla-gate vs. e-toll-gate: Just billions more squandered
- Wayne Duvenage
- 20 Mar 2014 (South Africa)
This week (18 March) Sanral released a media statement which spoke to their e-toll revenues and e-tag sales in a light that would have their bosses believing they were deserving of lavish bonuses and praise for a job well done. Coincidentally, it would be eclipsed by the Public Protector’s eagerly awaited final report on Nkandla, which some will say was a deliberate attempt to not have an angry public notice it.
Quite clearly, Sanral’s report is directed at a very specific audience – the ratings agencies and investors whom Sanral are anxious to please ahead of the bond auction planned for 2 April 2014. Their statement therefore may just be banished to the financial press and business pages of the news, just as their adverts in 2007 inviting public comment on the proposal to declare the Gauteng freeways as tolled routes, to which they only received a paltry 30 comments.
Six years have now passed since Sanral skirted ‘below the radar’ on e-toll decision and today, the e-toll issue has become a burning issue for this government, along with Nkandla, Gupta weddings, Medupi/ Eskom, poor service delivery and so much more. The exposure of the evils and irrationality of the e-toll plan is largely thanks to the voices of civil society who have remained steadfast in their opposition to the debacle, from OUTA, Cosatu, Church bodies, business organisations, to the public at large.
Unfortunately for Sanral, the coincidence between the release of the Nkandla report and their latest media release invites critical comparison between ‘Nkandla-gate’ and ‘e-toll-gate’. The stories ranked as two of the top media stories of 2013, and are in again rivalling each other for acreage in the newsprint and airtime in radio and TV, (pipped recently and momentarily by Oscar-hype). Both have required extra money from the public purse. Both reflect poorly on Zuma’s presidency, and on closer comparison both reveal a similar pattern of shocking management: A lack of professional competence at the planning, construction and completion stages; unnecessarily costly and inflated remedial efforts; cashing-in of political credibility by the formation of inter-ministerial committees that deal symptomatically rather than radically and preventatively; all the time encased with incredulous and self-deceiving PR spin.
As much as the civil activists would like to claim credit for the having persuaded many of the freeway users not to succumb to Sanral’s threatening tactics, it is clear that a significant volume of e-toll refuseniks are taking this stand in their own moral courage in an act of outrage against the unjust use of taxes to fund President Zuma's private residence at Nkandla. A kind of collective 'financial boo'. In the public’s mind the two issues are seen as two sides of the same coin – with President Zuma’s face on both.
However, the ‘face value’ of the coin is deceptive. The e-tolling fiasco has its origins in decisions taken long before President Zuma took office. The escalation of the Nkandla ‘security upgrade’ smacks of sycophancy by ministers who really didn’t much care about the man and his family, but only about their own political and material ambitions.
But when one puts real money rather than metaphorical coins into the ‘Nkandla vs. e-tolling’ equation, a massive asymmetry becomes apparent. Yes, a quarter of a billion rand of tax revenue spent on the private residence of a president does seem like is huge sum of money. But the quantum of public money wasted on the e-toll-gate fiasco eclipses the public money wasted on Nkandla by a massive margin. Unless there is a determined effort to deworm the e-toll-gate system, the waste of money will prevail long after President Zuma retires to his lavish rural residence.
Advocate Madonsela has excelled in speaking truth to power over the Nkandla scandal. If she eventually publishes the report of her investigation into the e-toll-gate complaints, she already has a ready-made template within which to encase her findings. Her report on Nkandla opened with assertion of principle that showed how her moral compass was calibrated, and concluded with a ‘road map’ to show a way forward.
On page 3, after the opening formalities, she quoted US Supreme Court Jurist Justice Louis Brandeis: “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches people by example… If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man [person] to become a law unto himself...”
To guide us in finding our way into the future, she quoted from a recent judgement (Khumalo and Another versus the MEC of Education in KwaZulu-Natal in December 2013). Although it had to do with education, she said the insight was equally valid to guide President Zuma in his response to the Nkandla report. Before things become any worse with the e-toll fiasco, Minister Peters should take heed of these words too.
“Public functionaries, as the arms of the state, are further vested with the responsibility, in terms of section 7(2) of the Constitution, to ‘respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights.’ As bearers of this duty, and in performing their functions in the public interest, public functionaries must, where faced with an irregularity in the public administration, in the context of employment or otherwise, seek to redress it.”
On Human Rights Day, 21 March, OUTA and others have invited Minister Peters to join us at Regina Mundi Catholic Church, to receive a memorandum and to hear again the grievances we have lodged with the Public Protector against the Sanral Board and Executive management with respect to the ill conceived ends and manipulative means used to force e-tolling upon us. DM