Compulsive corruption

2009-11-11 00:00

OVER dinner, one of my business-executive friends said he has no qualms about ministers earning high salaries and buying luxury vehicles because that is what executives in the private sector expect and are entitled to.

“Why should our elected officials not have similar perks? If you pay ministers peanuts, they will behave like monkeys,” he continued.

It does not bother him that ministers are paid excessively and still behave like monkeys. It is a myth to assume that good pay equals quality. Under the African National Congress, loyalty and not quality is rewarded and today, toeing the line is the primary criterion for admission to the ruling elite.

Too often a connection is made between levels of pay and levels of commitment and productivity. The financial crisis across the world has shown what a fallacy this is. Highly remunerated executives bungled the entire financial system so much that stimulus packages drawn from state funds have been injected into world markets to keep domestic economies alive. Executives who have bungled and destroyed the world’s leading financial institutions continue, unashamedly, to pay themselves huge bonuses from taxpayers’ money, arguing that profits can only be generated if they are given incentives to do so. This warped logic is mind-boggling.

On the home front, the ANC, too, speaks with a forked tongue, condemning graft while encouraging it among its cronies. Speaking at a business function in London, Mathews Phosa proposed the appointment of a corruption commissioner with legal powers to combat the abuse of state funds. This will only work when such an office has prosecuting powers. Malusi Gigaba suggests that we should follow China’s example and send high-profile leaders to jail for corruption. I like that suggestion, except that we shall have few leaders left to govern us.

Why reinvent the wheel when we had enough institutions to investigate corruption? Sadly, they have all been eviscerated through political interference. The Scorpions have been disbanded, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) is weak, the Public Protector was a joke, the Human Rights Commission postures and our police need policing. To protect itself from investigation, the ANC has littered these organisations with deployed cadres who protect those who fraudulently enrich themselves from state resources.

 

The latest travesty is the payout to Mabedle Lawrence Mushwana, our former Public Protector (PP), who has failed spectacularly to hold the executive accountable to Parliament. This incompetent man fudged former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s joyride with friends to the United Arab Emirates and exonerated her on the grounds that she was carrying out her official duty. His report shamelessly justified Mlambo-Ncguka’s jaunt, when she, in December 2005, was accompanied by her husband, Thuthukile Mazibuko-Skweyiya, her two children and others. The entire vacation cost the taxpayer R604 883, which included the use of a Falcon 900 aircraft from the South African Airforce, excluding security costs.

In one of my columns, dated September 2006, I did a thorough analysis of Mushwana’s failure to apply the letter of the law to this case. His work was shoddy, par excellence.

I questioned how Mushwana reached his decisions, when Mlambo-Ncguka had actually violated all the provisions of the Code of Ethics and the Ministerial Handbook. The rules of Parliament require that all gifts be disclosed and declared, but this trip, according to the PP “did not constitute a gift in terms of the Executive Ethics Code and was not a personal gift but a gift to the Office of the Presidency”, yet she went on vacation. He argued that whereas members of the cabinet may not use their positions to enrich themselves, or improperly benefit any other person, or risk a conflict-of-interest situation, or solicit or accept a gift or benefit to buy influence or favour, this trip to the UAE and the considerable benefits enjoyed by Mlambo- Ncguka and her entourage were within the prescribed codes of the Ethics Act and the Ministerial Handbook. I said then that in the PP’s report, he singularly redefined the notion of a “gift” as defined in the Code of Ethics.

This man, now, is rewarded with the Chief Human Rights Commissioner post and a gift of R7 million for moving from his Public Protector post to another cushy one. Competence is no longer a prerequisite for high office. All you need to do is to destroy an institution, as Dali Mpofu did with the SABC, and walk away with R11 million. Mushwana walked away with R7 million.

 

The problem with South Africa is that R1 million is no longer a lot of money. When billions are routinely siphoned out of state coffers, a million seems like small beer to the vampires who consistently use the state to enrich themselves. As one comrade put it:

“Under [Thabo] Mbeki it was corruption, under [Jacob] Zuma it is plain common looting.”

The threat to tax us one percent of our salaries to pay for the excesses of the SABC is to add insult to injury and deserves a tax revolt. I refuse to see my hard-earned salary frittered away by those who unashamedly steal my money to live the high life when poverty is epidemic. Corruption is not compulsory and the time has come for us to eliminate the very foundations that allow corruption to exist.

• Rhoda Kadalie is a human- rights activist based in Cape Town and author of In Your Face: Passionate conversations about people and politics, Tafelberg 2009.

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