It’s that time of the year when we look back on the individuals, organisations, and institutions who frustrated us, made us weep and gnash our teeth, made us throw up our hands, but also impressed us, gave us hope, and inspired us. Yes, it’s Hero and Zero of the Year time.

Last year it was no surprise that public protector Thuli Madonsela was voted the hero of the year for 2013 – she scooped the title in 2012 as well.

Another no-brainer last year was the appearance of President Jacob Zuma as our zero of the year – Zuma was voted into this ignominious position in 2012 also.

As a result of Madonsela and Zuma each topping the polls two years in a row, and to make it fair for other nominees, we are proud to introduce our Hall of Fame for distinguished Hero-Zero of the Year alumni.

They are our first two inductees!

Now for this year’s line-up

We featured a rich assortment of heroes and zeroes throughout 2014. All of them could have been in the running for the top spot, but to make it easier we’ve chosen just a handful.

On the zero side, who could forget deputy defence minister Kebby Maphatsoe fingering the public protector as a CIA agent, or former IEC head Pansy Tlakula spending a million on plant pots for the office? How about the South African Post Office for letting billions slip into the bottomless pit of irregular tenders, or the Department of Public Works which has been paying millions every month in rent for buildings that are not even occupied by civil servants?

Then there’s the North West provincial government, who took funds that were said to have been earmarked for the purchase of much-needed ambulances, and rather spent it on a fancy car for the health MEC. Eskom, on the other hand, also splurged, but on labour consultants – to the tune of a billion rands.

The SABC is often in the news, but its disclosure in October of the mind-boggling sum of R3.3-billion in irregular expenditure was a definite low point. Meanwhile, Madibeng Municipality in the North West, where people were killed earlier this year in water service-related protests, is spending only a fraction of its budget on maintaining water infrastructure, but then has to bring in water tankers, at huge cost to the taxpayer, when the supply dries up.

For every zero there is a hero, and the KwaZulu-Natal transport department is one, because it took action against crooked officials who were issuing licenses fraudulently, and in the process it has likely saved lives.

It’s not all bad news for municipalities, when dealing with Masilonyana Municipality in the Free State district of Lejweleputswa, Corruption Watch found it to be transparent, co-operative and efficient in responding to queries regarding access to information.

The City of Johannesburg, for exposing corruption between its City Power division and the private sector, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene for insisting that he’ll stick with his old car, thank you, and Cogta minister Pravin Gordhan, who told his local governments that they must remember that they are there to serve the public – all are examples of the positive side of government.

Young leaders of today are getting involved too – pupils from several Free State high schools took part in our inaugural Model Youth South Africa challenge, held in conjunction with Debate Afrika. Some of those future leaders may be among the children who will benefit from court action by the Centre for Child Law, which forced the national and Eastern Cape education department to speed up their assessment of schools in need of infrastructure, and to draw up a definite list for rebuilding.

The Arms Deal Commission has not yet managed to get to the bottom of allegations of corruption in the acquisition in 1998 of billions of rands worth of defence equipment, and there is growing doubt that it will achieve that. Three arms deal critics who were due to testify before the commission withdrew in October in protest against

Those are our nominees for the year! Vote for your choice now.

Here are our nominees:

HERO

 

ZERO

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport, for acting against fraud and corruption uncovered at a vehicle testing station in the community of Phoenix – and potentially saving lives too.

 

Deputy defence minister Kebby Maphatsoe, for saying that Thuli Madonsela is a CIA agent, among other ludicrous claims.

The Free State high school pupils who enthusiastically took part in the inaugural Corruption Watch / Debate Afrika Model Youth South Africa challenge.

 

The South African Post Office, for suffering a loss of R2.1-billion of taxpayers’ money, through the irregular awarding of tenders.

The City of Johannesburg, for exposing corruption and collusion in the distribution of electricity between its utility, City Power, and the private sector, and taking action that’s resulted in numerous arrests.

 

Disgraced IEC chairperson Pansy Tlakula, for her enthusiastic use of taxpayers' money to decorate the office – including the purchase of 399 metal plant pots at R2 400 each.

New finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, for declaring up front that he will set the example by not immediately buying a million-rand car for himself.

 

The North West provincial government, who reportedly took funds allocated to the purchase of ambulances to buy their health MEC a fancy car.

Cogta minister Pravin Gordhan for insisting that local government has to go back to basics, and keep in mind exactly who it is they are there to serve.

 

The Department of Public Works, which has cost the South African taxpayers R5-million a month in rent for over 100 buildings that are not occupied by public officials.

Arms deal critics Hennie van Vuuren, Paul Holden and Andrew Feinstein for making a stand against unfair treatment dished out to them by the Arms Deal Commission.

 

Madibeng Municipality for being exposed in reports that detail extensive mismanagement of taxpayers' money while residents struggle to get clean water.

The Centre for Child Law at Pretoria University, for successfully taking the national and Eastern Cape education departments to court in an attempt to make them speedily identify schools with infrastructure needs, and publish a fixed timetable for rebuilding.

 

The SABC, for admitting to irregular expenditure of R3.3-billion in the last few years, and for keeping quiet – until now – about the R2.36-billion portion of that sum that was misspent in the 2013 and 2012 financial years.

Masilonyana Municipality in the Free State district of Lejweleputswa, which was transparent, co-operative and efficient in responding to queries from Corruption Watch.

 

Power utility Eskom, for reportedly spending R1-billion of taxpayers’ money on labour consultants – one of these raked in R150-million for just two months' work.

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Excerpt
It’s that time of the year when we look back on the individuals, organisations, and institutions who frustrated us, made us weep and gnash our teeth, made us throw up our hands, but also impressed us, gave us hope, and inspired us. Yes, it’s Hero and Zero of the Year time.