Gordhan fights tender kickbacks

2011-02-26 12:09

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Friday he hoped those responsible for looting the state coffers through tender fraud and corruption would be brought to book speedily.

“We are aware that the rest of the criminal justice system needs to come to the party to ensure that justice is done.

“We need to have an efficient way of ensuring that prosecution processes move as fast as some of the investigation processes,” said Gordhan.

But it would take more than that to convict many high-profile alleged perpetrators.

“The people at Treasury say that if they get the political space to act, they will catch the biggest fish,” said a well-placed parliamentary official who is privy to the goings-on at ­National Treasury.

Another high-ranking politician said Gordhan’s attempt to clean up the administration may be hamstrung by political ­interests.

“It is easier to go for administrators at municipal level because they tend to be political lightweights who are unlikely to mount a serious fight back.”

On Wednesday, Gordhan told Parliament that 53 state tenders worth R3 billion were being probed for irregularities. He added that assets worth R250?million had been seized by the state from 65 people linked to some of the investigations.

There were also separate investigations by the South African Revenue Service (Sars) into nine cases of tender fraud involving R1.7 billion. He did not provide the details of tenders being probed by the taxman.

The parliamentarian, the politician and two ANC national executive committee members said Intaka was one of the cases under investigation.

They said the case had the potential to heighten tension among leaders within the ruling party ahead of the 2012 elective conference.

John Block, chairperson of the ANC in the Northern Cape, was arrested for fraud and corruption in the Intaka case which involved provincial health department tenders. In the run-up to Polokwane, Block ensured that his province stood behind then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, who was at the time facing charges of fraud and corruption. National Prosecuting Authority head Menzi Simelane was personally handling Block’s case.

“This is part of an attempt to show that the government is standing up against corruption,” the official said, adding that it could prove disastrous for the ruling party if more high-profile party leaders were drawn into tender investigations.

The cross-cutting investigations, the official said, included probes into fraud at municipal, provincial and national level.

The Treasury was investigating whether the tenders complied with the government’s regulations; the Special Investigating Unit, the Hawks and Sars were probing whether there was criminality in awarding the ­tenders.

On Friday, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the federation had full confidence in the different agencies probing tender fraud and corruption.

“We have full confidence in all the agencies, unless we know that they have ignored glaring cases. That would be a very sad day,” he said.

Gordhan said while government was putting in measures to fight corruption, there were still civil servants who were determined to steal from the state coffers. He said government was concerned about this and would act on it.

“We have a group of people who are short-sighted and extremely greedy and whose interest is to fill their pockets. As a society we have to take a stance against this,” Gordhan said.

The chairperson of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Themba Godi, said it was good that the state was fighting corruption, but it was unlikely that it would wipe out the scourge.

Derek Luyt, spokesperson for the Centre for Social Accountability, said it was strange that Gordhan and President Zuma were silent in their budget and state of the nation speeches about going after high-profile politicians who were implicated in corrupt activities.

“Until the commitment to fighting corruption is applied across the board we will remain with a situation where it is quite clear to many citizens that ­anti-corruption is a factional ­affair, to be rolled out against those lower down the pecking order or in the wrong camp,” said Luyt.

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