How deep is the rot? Why we need commissions of inquiry
They are not a form of justice in themselves, but they help us understand what the country has been through
Last week was a good one for commissions of inquiry. The astounding revelations by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas to the Zondo commission brought home how far gone we as a country were under president Jacob Zuma.
And the various revelations to the Nugent Commission regarding the systematic destruction of the South African Revenue Service under Zuma’s appointed leadership showed that no institution was safe.
Commissions are not a form of justice in themselves. But their ability to draw out information helps the public understand what we as a country have been through.
According to Jonas, Atul Gupta boasted that “we [the Guptas] control everything” including the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and the National Intelligence Agency. That was brought home when the Hawks later tried to get Jonas to withdraw his allegation about Atul Gupta’s attempt to bribe him with R600m to do their bidding in National Treasury.Over at the Nugent Commission, witnesses disclosed how its Large Business Centre and investigation capacity was dismantled under suspended commissioner. Tom Moyane. When tax compliance levels plummeted, the service started manipulating figures, withholding refunds to taxpayers in order to make collections look healthier than they were. That shattered the contract between Sars and taxpayers calling for honesty and fairness on both sides.
Of course, much more still has to come out. The details of the systematic capture of Transnet, Eskom and other state-owned enterprises needs a full telling. The billions of rands of tender fraud must be detailed. I hope those with the knowledge are willing and able to bring it the relevant commissions. But so far the picture being painted is one in which Atul Gupta’s comment was no mere boast.
The problems clearly go beyond the Guptas though. Another commission that has been announced, but not yet appointed, is that into the Public Investment Corporation. Last week one element of its mandate was given wings with the resignations of the chief executive and chief information officers of Ayo Technology Solutions. The resignations came while the PIC is investigating how it poured R4.3bn of pensioner money into the company, which is controlled by Iqbal Survé, the doyen of the Independent Media group.At the time of the PIC’s investment, Ayo consisted of little more than a promise by Survé that the company would accumulate some decent assets. That has not happened, though the cash is moving its way around the sprawling Survé business empire, with no demonstrable benefit to the PIC.
While Ayo is listed on the JSE, it hardly trades, despite having a notional market cap of R9.6bn. That values it at half of what the PIC paid, though the real value is probably a fraction of that, closer to whatever amount of the PIC’s cash is still left in the business. It has been a disastrous investment for the pension fund manager, another to add to the string of investment blunders, consistent only in that they served some or other strategic ambition of Zuma’s.
The many millions of taxpayer money being spent on all these commissions at last feels like money well spent. The truth is cathartic. The journalists and others who tried to bring out the facts during the worst days of the state capture machine can draw together the pieces of the puzzle that were still missing. The repair of the many institutions undermined can begin with the knowledge of just how seriously they were undermined.
After the facts are all out, the next focus will be on the consequences for those implicated. Clearly the criminal justice system was deliberately and systematically undermined by the state capture machine. Repairing it, from investigation through to prosecution capacity, will take time.The collateral damage of the state capture machine has been to enable criminals of all types. It is not only Zuma’s cronies who can escape justice, but everyone.
Consider that pyramid scheme fraudster Barry Tannenbaum continues to live freely in Australia without even an extradition request pending. Or that no prosecutions have ever been mounted over Brett Kebble’s sprawling and fraudulent business empire. Or the absence of investigation and prosecution in many other corporate frauds, including Alliance Mining, Blue Financial Services, and FirstStrut.
For several years there has been no better country than SA to defraud investors of money. If you manage to disguise it with a whiff of financial sophistication, our investigators and prosecutors are inert. That has damaged the whole economy, in which the ill-intended can thrive and investors must fear.President Cyril Ramaphosa has the challenge of resuscitating the criminal justice system ahead, a task that will hopefully be far progressed by the time the various commissions report their findings. He has to appoint a new national director of prosecutions who will have the Herculean task of cleaning out the rot while bringing committed and professional public servants back to the front line of ensuring justice is done.
Perhaps it will only be after successful prosecutions and sentences are meted out that we will be able to safely declare the commissions to have been a success. Last week gave me hope we may get there.
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