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Bain mistakes ‘can never be repeated’ — SA needs accountability, not whitewashed PR statements


Lord Peter Hain is a former British Cabinet Minister and anti-apartheid campaigner whose memoir, ‘A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, is published by Jonathan Ball.

The UK government announced in parliament last month that it was lifting a ban – more than two years early- it had imposed on the global consultancy firm Bain & Co last year. The ban on doing business with the UK government was because of its complicity in State Capture in South Africa. The lifting of the ban was sharply criticised by Peter Hain - a member of the House of Lords. The following is a copy of a letter of response to James Hadley, Managing Partner for Bain UK in in which Hain questions the validity of a proposed meeting by Hadley.

Dear Mr Hadley,

Thank you for your letter of 21 March 2023.

Although I would of course be willing to accept your invitation to meet, for me the only purpose would be a productive outcome rather than a rehearsal of Bains continuing and unacceptable stance on its reprehensible work particularly for South Africas tax agency, SARS, though also for other state entities during the infamous ‘State Capturedecade of rampant corruption and incompetent cronyism under former president Zuma.

I note in particular your stated intention to ensure that the mistakes of Bain South Africa can never be repeated. But although you state too that you have taken action “to make amends”, this does not correspond with reality.

Read more in Daily Maverick: It’s high time business makes amends for the role it played in State Capture

Before I can ascertain whether a meeting with you on the record would have a positive purpose in resolving the continuing damage to Bains global reputation, I would like to see in writing your response please to the following issues:

  1. A Commission of Inquiry (the Nugent Commission) into the affairs of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) reported that Bain had steadfastly refused fully to disclose what had occurred relevant to the Commission’s terms or reference. And that refusal was notwithstanding Bain’s internal investigation which had revealed the existence of 3,000 documents relevant to Bain’s conduct at SARS of which 114 were of ‘heightened relevance’; and worryingly 19 of these documents related to Bain’s dealings with the Gupta brothers and their associates, who are fugitives from South Africa and been sanctioned by both the UK and US governments. Furthermore, that extensive interviews had been conducted with at least 21 key Bain individuals in connection with the SARS projects. But the evidence and findings of these internal investigations were withheld from the Commission by Bain and continue to be withheld. Why?
  2. In a subsequent Commission of Inquiry, the Zondo State Capture commission, Bain was no more forthcoming, in particular in relation to evidence placed before that Commission by Mr Athol Williams.
  3. Prominent public announcements made by Bain and published in various newspapers in South Africa that it had co-operated fully with both Judicial Commissions of Inquiry have been strongly contradicted by both Commissions.
  4. In order to conduct meaningful and informed discussions with yourself I would require proper insight into the workings and findings of Bain’s internal investigations. I would also require an explanation as to why Bain has seen fit to withhold from both South African Judicial Commissions of Inquiry — and the public — material information over its seedy conduct in South Africa, including information emanating from its own internal investigations.
  5. I note that Bain has repaid fees to SARS. What additional practical steps have you taken to make amends to those harmed by your actions at SARS and other state entities? Including practical steps taken by Bain (both in South Africa and the United Kingdom) to ensure fair treatment for the Company’s highly respected former Global Partner Mr Athol Williams? That should surely require adequate compensation for the great harm he has suffered as well as for his future security and protection. Rather than continuing to hound Mr Williams and damage him reputationally and financially, causing him to flee for his safety to the UK, it is essential that Bain ensures that justice for him prevails. I would also wish to establish what steps Bain will take regarding the protection of brave whistle-blowers generally.
  6. Bain has stated that a significant step to avoid a repeat of the past is the introduction of an independent ‘Africa Oversight Board’. Who are the independent members of this board and how exactly is it supposed to protect South Africa’s interests? What steps will be taken by Bain to review or establish procurement rules for its work with public entities? This in the light of the Zondo Commission’s recommendation that all Bai’’s contracts with the South African State, especially those commissioned under former president Zuma, be re-examined for constitutional and regulatory compliance. In that respect, I note that Zonda described Bain’s conduct as ‘unlawful’ and recommended legal proceedings against the company which have not yet come to fruition.
  7. Has Bain South Africa itself reported all the facts regarding its conduct in South Africa from which criminal liability could be inferred and has it cooperated fully with law enforcement authorities in South Africa in making such a report? What assurances can you offer that these law enforcement authorities will not uncover additional wrongdoing on Bain’s part?
  8. During the proceedings of the Zondo State Capture commission, Bain applied to cross-examine Mr Athol Williams who was praised in the Commission’s report. Bain later withdrew the application. This was done after the Chair of the Commission made it clear to Bain that, if they sought leave to cross­ examine, they would have to place their full evidence and explanation before the Commission. Bain refused. Without putting its own version before the Commission, Bain took issue with its findings. I would require an explanation for this dubious conduct which suggests that Bain had a great deal to hide.
  9. I would require also full details about Bain’s plans presented to former president Zuma between 2012 and 2015 over the restructuring of certain government agencies and State Entities – including the centralisation of procurement across State Entities which appears to have been requested in order to facilitate even greater looting. I would also require a list of attendees at the many meetings held between Bain executives and former President Zuma and what the outcomes of those meetings were.
  10. Does Bain South Africa continue to provide services to the African National Congress? For example, can Bain provide information in regard to the ‘ANC Manifesto Implementation’ which discussed cabinet planning processes and performance agreements for Ministers and Directors-General?
  11. To what extent have individual Bain Partners been held accountable and disciplined for the corruption the company helped facilitate in South Africa? I note that many of those involved have been relocated to your global offices, London included. I also note that Bain SA reported to Bain UK and Bain Boston at the time of its iniquitous work for a corrupt president, his corrupt ministers and appointees.

If you are able to answer these matters in full, and in writing, a meeting between us could well have a productive outcome rather than be a mere rehearsal of Bains continuing and unacceptable attempts to gloss over its culpability.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Peter Hain proposes UK ban on Bain and other global consultancies implicated in SA State Capture

But meanwhile please do not take encouragement from gullible British Cabinet Office ministers and civil servants who recently lifted the UK ban on Bain announced in August 2022. Bain’s global reputation remains deeply damaged by earning fat fees from a corrupt South African president and his ministers and refusing to accept its culpability in a way that other global corporates, also culpable, have done.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Hain


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Bravo, Peter, Bravo! Nailed it, and hopefully, Bain and Co.

  • Frank Lee says:

    If only local politicians would seek the same level of accountability, transparency and disclosure in all state matters (and material contracts) that a member of the British Parliament is doing here. Alas, our politicians are largely a feckless bunch.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    Well done! I doubt they will comply with those terms, but rather stay with the strategy of plastering over the cracks.

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