It’s that time of the year again, when we ask you to vote for your top zero or hero for 2013. Last year President Jacob Zuma topped the zero poll, and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was by far the most popular choice of hero.
The candidates for Hero / Zero of the Year 2013 are varied – some come from the political arena, others are professionals, and still others are ordinary people who were moved to expose and report on corruption. All of them deserve their moment in the limelight, whether it’s for commendation or condemnation.
We’ve simplified the voting process by summarising the stories and characters, so you can easily choose your best and worst.
Former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, who passed away peacefully on Thursday 5 December, was a committed fighter for human rights, and for justice and equality for all. He spoke out strongly and often against corruption – “Dealing with crime, violence and corruption requires a new morality for our new nation. Indeed, it requires a new patriotism among communities, the public and private sectors, and the security services – so that at the end of each day, each one of us can answer in the affirmative the question: have I done something today, to stamp out crime!", he said in his State of the Nation address in 1996.
If you agree with what Mandela stood for, vote for him as the Hero of the Year.
Terence Nombembe, the former auditor-general, is a man widely admired and respected for his integrity and upright work ethic, his non-negotiable stance on good governance and accountability, and his strong words on how corruption and wasteful expenditure affects the poor. In August 2013 Nombembe reported on the sorry state of local government for the 2011/12 financial year – he revealed that out of 278 municipalities in the country, only nine got clean audits.
Nombembe was also strongly opposed to corruption – “We should not have a situation whereby there is no knowledge of where money was spent by any government entity or departments,” he said at an event at Wits University in October. Would you say that Nombembe is the Hero of the Year?
The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, is a determined woman who stands her ground no matter what is thrown at her. She's uncovered several cases of corruption and maladministration in the public sector this year. Her team exposed problems in the Independent Electoral Commission's lease of its offices, which, she said, was "irregular … and violated procurement rules".
Madonsela also came down hard on agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who has been in her firing line before, as well as former minister of communication Dinah Pule. Should Madonsela be our Hero of the Year?
Advocate Pansy Tlakula
In the high-profile case of the R320-million lease of head offices for the IEC, Tlakula was taken to task by the public protector, who found that she had an undeclared conflict of interest and she flouted procurement processes in acquiring the lease. Thuli Madonsela found that she was in breach of "her own commissions procurement policy" because she ran the procurement process herself rather than delegating it to the relevant departments.
Madonsela also unearthed an "undisclosed conflict of interest" between Tlakula and businessperson Thaba Mufamadi, whose company owns 20% of Abland, the trust that owns the building – there was possibly a romantic as well as a business relationship. Would you vote for Pansy Tlakula as the Zero of the Year?
Pupils from Moshesh Senior Secondary School in a rural village near Matatiele, Eastern Cape, have taken the provincial and national departments of education to court because of poor governance and appalling learning conditions at their school.
Palesa Manyokole and her brother, Zamuxolo Wesley Moutloali, are heading the challenge, which accuses the principal of absenteeism, maladministration and financial misconduct, and asks the education department to make redress.
The siblings know that education is the key to escaping poverty, and are determined that the education department will not ruin their chances, and that of others of their generation, for a better life. Do you think the Matatiele pupils deserve to be our Hero of the Year?
The notorious former minister of communication was fired by President Jacob Zuma in July, amid allegations of corruption and maladministration. In December the spotlight fell squarely on her again, with the release of a public protector report into alleged irregularities in the appointment of service providers to render event management services for the hosting of the inaugural ICT Indaba held in June 2012.
Thuli Madonsela found that Pule had acted improperly in authorising the donation of R10-million of her department’s money to the event, and she also revealed that Pule lied about her relationship with Phosane Mngqibisa, who was one of the service providers and had laid his hand on millions of rands of sponsors’ money.
However, in terms of the R10 000 Christian Louboutin shoes that Pule favoured, Madonsela found no evidence that Mngqibisa had bought them for her. Do you think Dinah Pule should be our Zero of the Year?
Johannesburg’s domestic waste management company has been accused of dirty deals – including trips overseas and awarding contracts to dodgy companies. The company has also raised a stench by making local residents pay for damaged or stolen dustbins out of their own pockets – a cost of almost R400.
The trip to Austria, for eight people, was booked while the company runs an operating deficit and faces a shortage of refuse trucks. The trip was a study tour to allow executives to learn best practices – but some said that it was to take care of unspent money ahead of the next financial year.
Audit firm Ernst & Young initiated an investigation into dodgy tenders worth R360-million, only to see the investigation grind to a halt before a final report was prepared. Workers have accused the management of concealing the report. Does Pikitup’s way of doing business smell bad enough to make it the Zero of the Year?
Mpumalanga Health Department
The Mpumalanga provincial health department reacted promptly to a Corruption Watch investigation into alleged irregularities in the awarding of a multi-million-rand tender. In the process the department set a good example of how a government department and civil society can work together to fight corruption.
The R182-million contract, to provide circumcision to 260 000 men and boys in the province, was awarded to Mkhago Health Care Services by officials in the department – but without requiring the service provider to go through the tender process, which is required by law for contracts worth more than R500 000. After a Corruption Watch investigation, which found that the awarding of the tender was not done according to regulations, the department suspended the R182-million contract and is now conducting its own investigation. Does the Mpumalanga Department of Health deserve to be the Hero of the Year?
Top forensic auditor Lawrence Moepi was gunned down in broad daylight in the parking lot of his Houghton firm – the murder sparked a storm of outrage and condemnation At the time of his death, Moepi was investigating the arms deal as well as alleged corruption in the sale of Cosatu’s old Braamfontein head office, which changed hands for half of its market value.
He had also done work for the public protector as an external auditor – one of the cases he worked on was the IEC / Pansy Tlakula investigation. Moepi’s colleagues and others in the forensic auditing community have praised him for being an inspiration leader and an incorruptible, upright man – is he your vote for Hero of the Year?
The big-spending minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries was again called to account by the public prosecutor, for irregularities in her department.
In 2012 Joemat-Pettersson was found to have spent state funds to book airline tickets from Sweden for her two children and their au pair while holidaying there, and she also was rapped over the knuckles for using taxpayers’ money to stay at trendy Johannesburg hotels.
The latest findings implicate her in irregular tender procedures and more wasteful spending, this time in the awarding of an R800-million tender for the manning and maintenance of state-owned marine patrol vessels for a period of five years. This was given to Sekunjalo Investments, but because the tender didn’t comply with the department’s supply chain management process, Madonsela declared it improper. She also slammed Joemat-Petteron for reckless handling of state money and services, and called on President Zuma to take action against her. Is Tina Joemat-Pettersson your ideal Zero of the Year?
President Jacob Zuma
Just when citizens thought they had heard the last of Nkandla, the saga made news headlines again in November, not only because of the recent squabble between public protector Thuli Madonsela and the ministers of the security cluster, but also because of previously undisclosed documentation that has come to light, and the anticipation ahead of the release of Madonsela’s report.
Although the ministers have asserted that all money spent on upgrades was necessary in terms of security concerns, taxpayers have been wondering how a helipad, playgrounds, swimming pools and visitor centres enhance Nkandla security.
Zuma also came under fire earlier this year for the so-called Guptagate affair, which scandalised the public not only for apparent actions of impunity, but also for the implications of national security. Is President Jacob Zuma a worthy Zero of the Year?
General Riah Phiyega
In September national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega failed to convince the nation that she and her department have got to grips with crime. Crime statistics released at the beginning of that month didn’t give a clear picture of the real situation in the country, and despite calls for corruption to be a part of the annual crime stats, this was again not the case.
Corruption is a crime in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, but the annual crime statistics have never included it, and much of it remains hidden even though various reports indicate that billions of rands are lost to corruption every year.
People could be forgiven for thinking that the police are turning a blind eye on corruption – is Riah Phiyega your Zero of the Year?
The fight against corruption gained some heroes in the form of brave teachers at Thubelihle Intermediate School in Soweto who exposed corruption and bad governance at their school. They became suspicious of the principal’s constant claims that there was no money to fix windows, or to buy pen and pencils, although they knew that money had been received from donors as well as the education department.
Corruption Watch investigated the allegations and commissioned a forensic probe into the school’s financial affairs, and the result shed light on fraud and abuse of public resources by the guilty parties, the principal and ex-school governing body head.
“Our learners have suffered enough over the years because of this principal and it is high time we stand up as teachers and do something about it,” said the teachers. Ordinary people, but also extraordinary – would you vote for the Thubelihle teachers as your Hero of the Year?
Department of Public Works
It’s not enough that the Department of Public Works is embroiled in the Nkandla saga – it is also wasting public funds in its everyday operation.
In September deputy minister Jeremy Cronin shared information on improper spending by his department – he confirmed that between 2009 and March 2013, the department was responsible for the irregular expenditure of a staggering R3.6-billion.
The 2012-2013 financial year accounted for more than R1.5-billion of this extravagance. Besides irregular lease contracts and improper procurement procedures, Cronin gave details of wasteful spending – for example, corrupt officials in the department have colluded with suppliers to charge R200 for each drinking glass hired for functions at the presidential guesthouse. This means that up to R60 000 was spent just on glasses for 300 guests, for one night! Do you think the Department of Public Affairs is our Zero of the Year?
Former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli has tried hard to avoid it, but he may still have to account for his actions, according to a court judgment handed down in September. The judgment says that various criminal charges against Mdluli, which had been withdrawn, must be reinstated by the national director of public prosecutions and that national police commissioner Riah Phiyega must proceed with the disciplinary action that had also been aborted.
The judgment criticised the withdrawal of fraud and corruption charges against Mdluli, saying that this was “illegal, irrational, based on irrelevant considerations and material errors of law, and ultimately so unreasonable that no reasonable prosecutor could have taken it.”
Mdluli faces 18 charges including intimidation, kidnapping, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder, as well as defeating the ends of justice. He also is charged with fraud, theft and money-laundering, as well as nepotism and the misuse of police funds. Is Richard Mdluli your Zero of the Year?
In October the minister of finance announced strict new measures to curb runaway government spending – they include new guidelines for the purchase of cars, overseas and local travel, housing, the use of consultant services, and catering and advertising.
Credit cards have already been cancelled and no new ones will be issued, said Gordhan. This is welcome news, as senior government officials have seemingly needed no logical reason to misuse their official credit cards.
Gordhan also mentioned plans to “ensure that competition is not undermined by collusive practices”. His recommendations have been widely welcomed – is Pravin Gordhan your Hero of the Year?