At a media briefing in parliament last month, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi sent a stern warning to corrupt individuals: “You can run, but you can’t hide. If you steal from the poor, we are coming to get you.”
This week, Nxesi flexed his muscles by axing the first official in his department, Thabo Thomas Moagi, who was found guilty in an internal disciplinary hearing of accepting bribes from companies doing business with the department. Employed as a senior administrative officer and project manager with a salary of less than R10 000 a month, Moagi, according to a report in The Star newspaper, received payments of R260 000 and a vehicle worth R254 000 from a businessman who was awarded 11 lease tenders three years ago.
Yet our zero of the week is not Moagi, who pleaded not guilty to the charges; Desmond Simamane, a colleague originally charged with Moagi, takes that title. Not only did Simamane fail to take responsibility for his actions, but he opted for the easy way out – to resign when the disciplinary hearing started. That he was accused of pocketing R635 000 and accepting a Nissan double cab valued at R566 250 didn’t seem to bother him enough to man up and account to the South African taxpayers who paid his salary and are the alleged victims of his actions.
Although one official was fired, Corruption Watch decided to take Nxesi at his word – he said at a media briefing that his “intention [is] to try [to] recover what was lost.”
Corruption Watch asked the minister to explain if all measures were taken to ensure Simamane would never be employed by another government office, and to tell the public whether in both corruption cases, the former officials had been reported to the police. Corruption Watch is encouraged by the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, which clearly states the offences in respect of corrupt activities relating to public officers, and the penalties that a conviction under the Act attracts.
At the time of publishing our zero of the week, Desmond Simamane, who used a loophole in government policy by resigning instead of answering to the internal fraud and corruption charges, Nxesi had not responded to our questions. Given that fraud and corruption as a result of irregular lease agreements in the Public Works Department could run into billions of rands, we will continue to ask the questions of Nxesi and expect answers – yet still commend what the minister is doing to fight the scourge of corruption.
David Lewis, the executive director of Corruption Watch, pointed out that corruption was not just a workplace offence. “It is a crime and those in authority who do not report corruption to the police are also guilty of an offence.”
Taking the easy way out will not get you off the hook. Corruption is not just a workplace offence; it is a crime that has to be reported to the police. Take note, Desmond Simamane.