By Valencia Talane
Our joint heroes for this week are Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Competition Commission – both have recently taken swift and effective action against matters affecting the integrity of our nation, showing that unethical behaviour and corrupt scheming do have real consequences.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has set high standards for the public offices that he has occupied and encouraged others to do the same, while the Competition Commission has shown that collusive tendering will not be tolerated by slapping firms with R1.5-billion in fines and securing their admissions of guilt to pave the way for heavier civil damages claims.
First, the trusted taxman
Gordhan was previously the commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (Sars), a post he held for the decade between 1999 and 2009. His successor, Oupa Magashula, stepped down last week after being found guilty of misleading an inquiry into an allegation of impropriety against him.
Ordered by Gordhan and led by retired Constitutional Court Justice Zac Yacoob, the probe followed on from a City Press exposé in March carrying transcripts of a secret recording of a conversation in which Magashula offered a chartered accountant a job at Sars.
On 12 July Gordhan’s office issued a media statement on the findings of the probe, which had been given to Magashula in a report a few days previously, compelling the commissioner to resign.
“Mr Magashula was given a copy of the report on Tuesday, 9 July 2013. The following day, 10 July 2013, he admitted to the minister and the deputy minister of finance that his actions constituted failure to promote and maintain a high standard of professionalism and ethical behaviour that is expected of the Commissioner of Sars,” Gordhan said in the statement, adding that he would accept Magashula’s resignation with effect from 12 July.
He added that Sars is an institution whose very foundations are built on the trust and credibility that South African taxpayers have in it.
“It is therefore critical that those to whom the stewardship of this vital fiscal institution is entrusted conduct themselves, during and after working hours, in a manner that ensures that they are above question."
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis lauded Gordhan for his character in an opinion piece written for Business Day earlier this week.
“Gordhan has firmly established that unimpeachable ethical conduct is the appropriate standard to be applied to high office,” wrote Lewis. “If this was the standard adopted by other leaders in the public and private sectors, we would be well on the way to combating corruption and impropriety.”
Commission is tops too
Following the extensive construction-sector probe by the heroic Competition Commission, the Competition Tribunal sat this week to review the appropriateness of the punishment meted out against the guilty firms.
A total of R1.46-billion was imposed on 15 firms by the commission for their part in collusive conduct and tender-fixing for large infrastructure projects ahead of the soccer world cup in 2010. Through a fast-tracked settlement process negotiated between the commission and the firms in 2011, reduced fines were agreed upon in return for full and truthful disclosure of their illegal acts.
The commission, being a state-appointed law-enforcement agency, managed to save the government a substantial amount of money in legal costs by initiating the settlement process.
Furthermore, the process secured a full account of the activities by the firms themselves in a way that a court process would most likely not have managed. In other words, it killed two birds with one stone.
On Wednesday this week Corruption Watch made written and oral submissions to the tribunal, calling for the relevant prosecuting authorities to lay criminal charges against individual directors personally involved in the tender-rigging in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.
Corruption Watch also called for all those affected by the collusive tendering – including municipalities, provinces and private entities – to institute civil claims for damages suffered.
One of the recommendations made by Corruption Watch to the tribunal was that in future, the commission should name and shame individuals implicated in such cartels. Besides the 15 companies that settled, several others opted not to take part in the process, and will be prosecuted.