As South Africans look to the year ahead, all signs are that the problem of corruption will keep lawmakers and anti-corruption organisations preoccupied. Several high-profile cases that we expect to be followed up involve senior public officials, including President Jacob Zuma. But will these go into the history books to mark the struggle against the scourge of corruption, or are we in for another case of “same old story”?
What punitive measures will be meted out for those who are found guilty? Can we rely on an anti-corruption unit as promised by Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to rein in errant public officials? Only time will tell.
The year ahead
At the top of the list and perhaps most distressing are the controversial upgrades at Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Investigations by the Department of Public Works, public protector Thuli Madonsela and auditor-general Terrence Nombembe are under way into the more than R200-million spent over the past few years on the development of the president’s home.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has said his staffers view the matter as a priority and that not only will the findings of his investigation be made public, but that this will happen soon.
An older matter linked to Zuma that raised its ugly head towards the end of 2012 was that of the records related to a corruption case against him that followed the Schabir Shaik arms deal trial in 2004. Although the charges against Zuma were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2009, a Supreme Court of Appeals order was issued to the prosecutions body to make records of the trial available, after a three-year battle by the DA.
Developments will be watched closely, with commentators speculating on what the timing of the Appeals Court judgement will mean for Zuma’s political career, if anything.
In March, ANC Northern Cape chairman John Block and his six co-accused in a case of fraud, corruption and money laundering to the tune of R49-million, will appear in the Kimberley Magistrates Court. The accused, among them employees of the South African Social Security Agency, last appeared in November. Block, who is also the economic development MEC in that province, declined nomination to his party’s national executive committee ahead of the conference in Mangaung in December.
A former Zuma ally who has now been discarded by the ANC, Julius Malema, will also have his day in court to face charges of fraud and money laundering. Although his case within the ANC is done and dusted, his court battle – brought against him in September last year – will be fought in the Polokwane Magistrates Court in Limpopo on 23 April.
Malema, once the firebrand head of the ANC Youth League, has also been linked in media reports to tender irregularities. A probe by Madonsela found that he had used his political position to influence the awarding of tenders by the provincial department of roads and transport and the Limpopo government in general.
The finding was related to On-Point, an engineering firm that was blacklisted from doing business with the provincial government by Madonsela. Lesiba Gwangwa, a close associate of Malema, is one of its directors.
Another matter involving the Limpopo government is that of the delayed delivery of textbooks to several schools in the province in 2012. EduSolutions, the distributing company contracted by the provincial department of education, is fighting the national Department of Basic Education in court for its decision to cancel the contract.
The company is expected to argue in the Northern Gauteng High Court that it was hired by the provincial department, and thus should not have been fired by the national department. Several departments in Limpopo, including education, were put under the administration of the national government in 2012. During the height of the saga, EduSolutions founder Shaun Battlemann was reported to be politically well-connected, wielding business clout in several provincial departments across the country.
One case that will probably turn the international spotlight on to South Africa involves Cash Paymaster Services, a company contracted by the Department of Social Development to distribute social grants to millions of South Africans monthly. It was the successful bidder in a two-horse race against AllPay. The latter went to court to appeal against the awarding of the contract, citing irregular tender processes by Cash Paymaster. Although the North Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of AllPay, Cash Paymaster has not been barred from distributing grants.
In a twist described by Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis as “appalling”, the court ruled that in the interest of keeping the grant system rolling, Cash Paymaster could go on providing its government service. But the parent company of Cash Paymaster, the American Net1, is being investigated by that country’s Federal Bureau of Investigations regarding the matter, and the case is likely to have interesting developments in 2013.
In a move that is widely viewed as a blow to freedom of expression, the final stages of Parliament’s signing of the Protection of State Information Bill, or Secrecy Bill as it has come to be referred to, will happen this year.
Following its passing by the National Council of Provinces late in 2012, the Bill will now go to the National Assembly where there is all likelihood that it will be passed into law. Although not an outright case of corruption, South Africa’s civil society movement and some very vocal media organisations have expressed concern a law of its nature would easily harbour an environment where corruption is covered up because public access to information is not encouraged or supported.
Elephant in the room
At both its policy and elective conferences last year, the ANC brought up the issue of corruption, particularly within the government, as an urgent concern that required punitive measures to be put in place to fight it.
After a disappointing ranking of 64th by Transparency International in its 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, it can be argued that South Africa seems to be losing, and not winning, its corruption battle.
The elephant in the room has been the issue of conflict of interest involving senior government officials who are not seen to be held accountable for their actions. As a result, government expenditure that goes unexplained runs into the hundreds of millions of rand on a year-to-year basis, with the local government sector standing out as the main culprit.
Corruption Watch board member and chairperson of the National Anti-Corruption Forum, Zwelinzima Vavi, referred to the issue of conflict of interest as the bedrock of corruption involving public officials, and said standards of service delivery were compromised.
The governmental monitoring body, the Public Service Commission (PSC), has asked Parliament to review legislation that allows public officials to do business with the government, and it is expected that the matter will examined this year.
The call by the PSC will help set the tone for the government’s efforts to fight corruption this year and going forward. Minister Sisulu’s envisioned anti-corruption unit is also a welcome addition to the initiatives already in place to combat the practice.