Kickbacks and bribes

2011-02-28 00:00

THERE is a resident in the city who tells me the same story every time I meet him.

Not because he has forgotten that he told me the story, it is more from the utter distress he feels over the incident. He spent time and money putting together a proposal for a complex on a piece of vacant land. His constant inquiries at the municipality as to what had happened to his proposal was met with such responses as it hasn't come up as yet, blank stares and denials that such a proposal was ever received or "you will hear from us". More than a year later he was surprised to see a large board on the piece of vacant land stating that a complex was to be erected there.

The plan was suspiciously similar to the one he had proposed.

This time an official at city hall said that the developer had submitted his plan long before the unfortunate resident. "What could I do," he said, "I had no money to fight the matter in court."

He later discovered that the developer had close links to the ruling party and certain councillors were rumoured to be silent partners in the project. I was reminded of his story reading about the controversial police headquarters lease. The property was initially offered to the police at a much lower rental and was turned down. Months later it was offered at a higher rental by a new owner of the building, the politically well connected Roux Shabangu and the offer was accepted.

The police headquarters saga has dominated newspaper headlines. Not so much because it involves commissioner Bheki Cele, but because the investigation has shown that the once toothless Public Protector's office has a backbone in the form of advocate Thuli Madonsela.

What will happen going forward is anyone's guess. There seems little chance that police commissioner Cele will resign or even be pushed out of office. Not after he has so neatly deflected the blame on to his subordinate Lieutenant-General Hamilton Hlela. However, the police headquarters debacle will be a barometer of how serious South Africa is about dealing with corruption.

We will have to wait and see if the lease is cancelled, if anyone is brought to book or sadly if Madonsela becomes the victim of her success and is quietly sidelined.

It is comforting to note that fighting corruption remains embedded in the South African discourse, even if it comes across as more talk than action on the part of the ruling party. Various premiers have made the commitment to fight corruption in their state of the province addresses, although opposition parties have said they have not gone far enough.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was very clear about combating tender fraud. It was reassuring listening to him reel out the figures. He said there are currently 53 investigations involving procurement irregularities, involving contracts worth R3 billion. The SA Revenue Service (SARS) is investigating a further nine cases valued at about R1,7 billion. SARS had also, by the end of January, identified 13 000 vendors who have won state contracts and owe taxes amounting to over R1 billion.

The wheels of justice move slowly and seem to be even slower when it comes to matters of corruption. In the KZN Legislature on Thursday, the IFP's Dr Lionel Mtshali mentioned the 2006 investigation into fraud and corruption in the Department of Agriculture, under former head Dr Jabulani Mjwara. Mtshali said the investigation remains off limits to the Standing Committee of Public Accounts (Scopa) and the wider public for the time being.

If what has happened in Tunisia, Egypt and now in Libya is any indicator, a government today ignoring issues of corruption does so at its own peril. The masses can only tolerate so much of a small elite enriching themselves at the expense of the general citizenry.

Corruption will continue to dominate many more lines of column space. This is especially as both the corruptor and the corruptee find ways of crooking the system and covering their tracks.

There's the kickback; the bribe; public officials who have nominees, not related to them, acting on their behalf in government transactions; price rigging in tenders and other people's proposals passed on to cronies by officials.

There's also businesses who have learnt how to operate in the "third world", by cosying up to the politically well connected. The list goes on.

And let's not forget the other big story dominating headlines — the mutually beneficial relationship between the Gupta and Zuma families, which labour federation Cosatu wants probed.

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