Adriaan Basson

Nothing to celebrate on anti-corruption day

2016-12-09 15:06
Jeff Radebe, Minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. (Photo: GCIS)

Jeff Radebe, Minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. (Photo: GCIS)

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Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the word "anti" was misspelled "atni" twice in the subject and heading of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s speech on international anti-corruption day on Friday.

The lack of attention to spelling is consistent with the Jacob Zuma administration’s lack of attention to ensure South Africa fights the scourge of corruption that has been creeping into our body politic and societal DNA since Zuma took power in 2009.

Radebe’s speech about South Africa’s efforts to fight corruption under Zuma leaves me cold.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This administration has done everything in its power to destroy, not embolden, the fight against graft.

This is, of course, unsurprising. Zuma was elected on an anti-anti-corruption ticket to become ANC president in Polokwane in 2007.

Zuma and his supporters (including Radebe, who is a master at changing his colours, like a true political chameleon) bought into the rhetoric that Zuma was the victim of former president Thabo Mbeki’s abuse of the Scorpions to prevent him from succeeding Mbeki.

Despite a litany of evidence to the contrary – that Zuma was captured by Schabir Shaik to advance his business interests in exchange for Shaik bankrolling his lifestyle – Radebe and Co bought into Zuma’s rhetoric and set in motion a process that would effectively destroy our corruption-fighting capacity in the next nine years.

Radebe himself played no small part in this. As minister of justice, he oversaw the weakening of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) by advancing the careers of Menzi Simelane and Nomgcobo Jiba at all costs.

Radebe’s own track record of fighting corruption and promoting good governance is questionable. As minister of transport, he oversaw the expensive and fraught e-tolls deal being signed; the implementation of the controversial eNaTIS traffic system, and years of maladministration by Prasa.

Radebe is said to have had a very close relationship with disgraced former Prasa boss, Lucky Montana.

Radebe’s protection of Jiba remains a mystery. After she was suspended from the NPA for secretly helping the police to arrest prosecutor Gerrie Nel on trumped up charges, Radebe reached a secret settlement with her and she returned to the NPA, where she later acted as national director of public prosecutions.

Throughout her obvious protection of disgraced crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli against prosecution for corruption (for allegedly looting a secret intelligence fund) and murder, Radebe was by her side. Radebe is said to have pushed hard for Jiba to be appointed as permanent head of the NPA, but lost the support of Zuma on this.

Shortly before Radebe became justice minister in 2009, the Scorpions were officially closed down by the ANC as punishment for going after Zuma. Despite the unit’s flaws, it remains the highlight of democratic South Africa’s fight against corruption (and gave effect to the United Nations’ Convention Against Corruption, that we shall have a dedicated anti-corruption unit).

The Scorpions were replaced by the Hawks, who never became a dedicated anti-corruption unit. An amalgamation of the police’s serious and violent crimes unit and commercial branch, the Hawks never had the skills or ability to fight sophisticated bribery, like the Scorpions did.

An effort was made to replace the Scorpions with an inter-governmental unit, called the Anti-Corruption Task Team (ACTT), which brought together cops, prosecutors, forensic investigators and revenue officials to target corruption through a multi-disciplinary approach (the same way the Scorpions used to conduct its investigations).

It was an opaque structure, with no identity or public profile. The ACTT was set ambitious targets by Radebe and his colleagues: it would only investigate corruption of more than R5m and bring down the real big crooks.

This never took off. Despite sporadic successes (like the John Block-Trifecta case, referred to by Radebe on Friday) the ACTT soon had to take on stock standard "chequebook fraud cases" to boost its numbers. I'm reliably told that "normal" commercial branch cases are being transferred to the ACTT to beautify its success rates.

The ACTT’s experienced head of investigations, Kuben Moodley, was "worked out" and the NPA is no longer keen for its prosecutors to be part of the exercise.

When former Hawks head Anwa Dramat tried to investigate cases linked to Zuma, he was fired and replaced by the politically pliable Berning Ntlemeza, who spends most of his energy looking for dirt – ANY dirt – on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Before Radebe lectures us on the anti-corruption successes of this administration, he should answer the following questions:

  • What did he do during his time as minister of transport to fight corruption at Prasa?
  • Why did he bring Jiba back to the NPA through a secret settlement deal?
  • Why did he protect Jiba as minister of justice, despite plenty of evidence that she was protecting Mdluli?
  • Why did he, as minister of justice, block senior prosecutors from traveling to Switzerland to investigate arms deal broker Fana Hlongwane’s bank accounts?
  • Why was the ACTT’s threshold of only investigating corruption cases involving more than R5m lowered.

Despite some successes by over-worked and under-resourced Hawks detectives, there is simply no proof that South Africa’s law enforcement agencies have the capacity or political will to deal with big corruption cases.

There is no reason for celebration on this international anti-corruption day.

* Adriaan Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter.

Read more on:    jeff radebe  |  corruption

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