Opinionista Bongani Mbindwane 1 July 2015

Of corruption, Vavi, the ANC and big business… who’s fighting the good fight?

Former Cosatu leader, Zwelinzima Vavi, in July announced a 100,000-strong anti-corruption march to the Union Buildings and Parliament to take place in August and be led by himself, some civil society groups and trade union the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. But who is he fooling?

Corruption became topical in South Africa in the first months after Nelson Mandela took office in the Union Buildings in 1994. Mandela had made it clear Apartheid’s endemic and pervasive corruption would be rooted out and cleaned up. There were no serious laws against political or financial corruption in place. There remain long-standing investigations on crimes by the last Apartheid government.

The narrative that black people in general are corrupt, lazy, stupid, incompetent and promiscuous has not been exorcised. In South Africa, we have “they are corrupt”, “they are in a gravy train”, “they are violent criminals” and back to “they are corrupt” when all else fails. Also “they are incompetent” – code for “affirmative action or cadre deployment”. It was a huge matter to appoint Trevor Manuel as finance minister; it became even a bigger affront to some when Tito Mboweni became the man to sign bank notes. Both men are today world respected and the rest is history.

In recognition of the risk of corruption, the ANC in 1996 started drafting policy that sought to remove politicians or the executive from direct financial management and responsibility. Contracts or public tenders were regarded as first line. This led to the development and enactment the Public Finance Management Act of 1999. The PFMA Act and related Municipalities Act removes political management of funds and places this on civil servants as the first line accounting officers.

There are General Procurement Guidelines that regulate public procurement; this works with the Framework for Supply Chain Management by ensuring oversight, and the Guide to the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act which leads to the process for blacklisting companies involved in corruption or lack of performance.

The Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 provides for access to public information and this has proved an important tool for journalists.

At the height of the Arms Deal corruption allegations, the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act 2004 (PCCA) was enacted, which criminalises corruption in public and private sectors and codifies specific offences.

South Africa also ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said of President Jacob Zuma in 2009: “If he (Zuma) could up the efforts on HIV/Aids, provide needed medicine to people and importantly, institute a Judicial Inquiry on the Arms Deal – I will pray for his fortunes – that is all I am asking for.” We know what Zuma did.

As we now pretty much know, the years of rumours and allegations around the Arms Deal are proving to be gossip at best and no one has come forward with any useful evidence. Foreign governments rumoured to hold evidence have so far said there is no evidence in their possession that could assist Judge Willie Seriti’s probe on the Arms Deal.

Wide ranges of agencies have legal authority to address corruption in South Africa. These include the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the Auditor-General, the Public Protector, the Public Service Commission and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

In his speech, Vavi said he was concerned about Nkandla “corruption”, e-tolls and the large amount of money spent on giving civil servants “golden handshakes”, among other issues. The Nkandla matter has been exhaustively investigated. The report most trusted by NGOs and Vavi is that of the Public Protector, Secure in Comfort. The report found there was no corruption in the Nkandla matter but rather unethical and unauthorised spending, among others.

What seems to have made Vavi mad is Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s Nkandla report, which, in my assessment, no one in the ANC found impressive at all, in as far as its final assessment was concerned.

It also seems to me that any African traditional man, a proud man, no matter how it came about that their four-legged animal stock kraal got to be built by the State, would know that his animals must be kept in a place that has been announced to his ancestors, and such announcement bodes well if his own sweat built that kraal or else such animals are just farm animals, just money value with no traditional religious value attached to them. The President Jacob Zuma we have come to know appears to be a man who will, in part, disagree with Nhleko’s final report and will indeed offer to make payments towards at least this very valuable kraal on traditional and customary grounds. This is aside from the fact that his original kraal was demolished by the state to make way for police and SANDF buildings at his homestead.

The Vavi organisations – Numsa, Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), Section 27 and Equal Education – are known anti-ANC groupings with Outa having in it the likes of the DA, FF Plus and business.

South Africa has seen corruption and there have been moments of great concern. However, on public perceptions on corruption, politicians remain unable to touch public finance by law, civil servants who get tempted are periodically caught with asset forfeiture back to the State. Indeed, where politicians are accused of having manipulated the system, we have seen public trials.

On the issue of overspending on Nkandla security expenditure, the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) is pursuing civil claims to recover damages to the tune of up to R150 million from the main contractor.

Zuma should equally be advised to likewise sue for damages from his contractor and recoup whatever State refund he will make from his contractor who, clearly, according to the Public Protector, decided to make the Nkandla prestige project a piggy bank.

What remains curious is that Vavi’s plans for a big march shield the private sector corruption of which the very Nkandla contractor is accused. It shields those who get away with fines for overcharging on basic foods, on public infrastructure built programmes. It shields corporates who, as President Thabo Mbeki recently reported, transfer $50 billion per annum out of Africa’s. These companies run the gamut from banks to cellular phone operators, mining and oil.

They sidestep taxation and other regulations to cut costs; they prefer retrenchments to increase profits.

The Union Buildings are all black people have. They do not have Maude Street in Sandton. Vavi, in his wisdom, thinks it is time to target this monument of black liberation just 20 years into healing Apartheid’s wounds.

History has a record of marches to the Union Buildings. We know the meaning of what marching to the Union Buildings really means. It is the very last resort in our human and peaceful arsenal. It is a place we have placed a permanent statue of Nelson Mandela. Marching to the seat of black emancipation says it’s more than stunt. It declares a deep meaning of something. To march to where Nelson Mandela sat, you say a lot more than the memorandum you hand in.

If our government architecture provides an easier means for corrupt politicians, it means the current laws in place do not add up. Vavi must suggest laws that must be introduced rather then holding Solidarity’s and the FF Plus’ hands towards the Union Buildings.

Transparency International (TI) has developed a comprehensive list of the world’s most corrupt countries based on public perceptions and of course what is topical in country media, the study ranks countries on a scale from 0 to 100, with zero being the most corrupt, and 100 being the least.

South Africa needs to do more to combat corruption; this includes all corruption. The continued shielding of civil servants is counter-productive. It is civil servants that manage public finances not politicians. The shielding of businesses from corruption allegations is hypocritical at best.

With all the aforementioned laws and policies the government has put in place, other then King III on Good Corporate Governance, what has the JSE, Financial Services Board or Securities Regulations Panel put in place as a demand for financial and listed companies? Nothing. JSE listed companies are not even required to do corruption surveys or investigation reports. Vavi will not demand it either.

The private sector needs to have its own anti-corruption indaba, immediately. After all, they are the ones with money to corrupt.

Yes, there is public sector corruption, especially at municipal level; it is, however, done in tandem with the private sector.

South Africa is aware there are internal problems inside Cosatu; what the public must also be vigilant over is that no one comes to use or misuse what is clearly an emotive issue of corruption to revive their careers. Loss of career security can be devastating, but individuals must continue to act honourably. DM

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