Who’s fooling who?

2010-11-22 00:00

LAST week I began to feel like someone at a religious revival campaign, wanting to believe but not quite converted. This was after no less a person than national Justice Minister Jeff Radebe chose Pietermaritzburg to hold a press conference announcing his department’s latest offensive against graft and corruption.

The joint conference with KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize was impressive, giving a sense of what is being done in this province to fight corruption. According to Mkhize, more than 13 800 officials have been convicted of fraud and corruption involving social grants, and more than R67,8 million is being recovered.

From April last year to August this year civil servants are being investigated by the Commercial Crime Unit in 1 545 cases involving R856,8 million. Mkhize said that of the cases opened 1 422 involving R74,7 million were referred to court for prosecution and that to date the court has posted 1 282 convictions involving R30,8 million. And in the current financial year 25 matters involving R768,8 million are being probed by the provincial Treasury’s internal audit unit.

Radebe disclosed what has been reported in this newspaper for some time now — that there is chaos in the local Master’s Office. The Witness reported that the Guardian’s Fund is in a mess because a skeleton staff is overwhelmed by the caseload and that the filing system has gone awry. Sure enough, on his walkabout on Wednesday the minister found records of estates in dusty books with pages missing and a broken fingerprinting machine, and he met a granny who wept as she told him about her struggle since 2004 to get money owed to her from the Guardian’s Fund.

This Guardian’s Fund is under the control of the Master of the Supreme Court. It holds and administers the funds of minors, insane persons, unborn heirs, absent persons and persons whose identities are not known.

Last month Radebe announced that the fund has been plundered of R80 million by corrupt justice officials and syndicates.

Another positive indicator in the fight against corruption is that the state has quantified how much is being lost through graft. Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration learnt, to the horror of its members, that irregular and unauthorised expenditure in the 2009/10 financial year amounted to R3,9 billion. Almost half of that was due to supply chain management irregularities.

The committee also learnt that in public entities R110 million worth of tenders were provided without the suppliers providing tax clearance certificates.

This all makes for pretty depressing reading, but Radebe provided some perspective. He pointed out that globally corruption involves outright theft of money ranging from between $1 trillion and $3 trillion dollars (about R21 trillion). Corruption is not just a government problem; it also affects business. The Business Times yesterday cited a PriceWaterhouse&Coopers global economic survey that finds that 59% of South African companies fall victim to bribery and corruption.

So why isn’t everyone convinced that the government is serious about tackling corruption?

Well, there is the matter of some government officials being suspended and others not. ANC Northern Cape Leader and MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism John Block, currently on bail in a R40 million tender corruption case, remains in his job.

Suspensions of officials remain problematic. If, as the ANC, says Block remains innocent until proven guilty then surely the same consideration must be given to other officials. At least they can be put to work and not be drawing large salaries for months while sitting at home. How much is this costing the state? In our own cash-strapped municipality, how much is it costing ratepayers?

City Press this weekend reports on the ANC’s investment arm — Chancellor House — acquiring a number of mineral prospecting rights. Mining law expert Peter Leon told the newspaper that this amounts to a conflict of interest and favouritism. He pointed out that the government apportions these rights, and here it is granting rights to the investment arm of the ruling party.

Then there is the matter of what gets attention and what doesn’t. Several years ago the uMgungundlovu Municipality was at the centre of a forensic investigation into R1,6 million taken from the municipality’s HIV and Aids fund and given to a Durban branch of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc). We still don’t know if the money has been recovered and whether any criminal proceedings ensued.

In the shake-up at Msunduzi Municipality, a great many matters have come under the spotlight. One that caused an outcry is the awarding of a R240 million tender for smart meters, which remains unexplained. Were proper tender procedures followed? How could the city, which was already showing signs of economic strain, afford to pay for this? And which budget was it to come from?

It is still early days, and perhaps this time the government is really intent on tackling the cancer of corruption.

I’ll wait for more signs. Until then I remain a non-believer.










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