Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Those with 'political insurance' threaten meaningful reform

2019-02-21 11:15
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Adriano Mazzotti (left).

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Adriano Mazzotti (left).

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No political party or leader is immune from political insurance buying. Political parties and leaders must take practical steps to mitigate against it, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

In his 2019 budget speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni made a passing reference to the seizure of assets belonging to Adriano Mazzotti, the alleged cigarette smuggler and tax dodger. SARS attached the properties to settle a tax bill that runs into millions of rands.

Mboweni mentioned the steps taken by SARS without mentioning Mazzotti's name to make a point about government's decision to strengthen the tax collector's investigative abilities that were eroded under the ruinous tenure of Tom Moyane.

READ: Mboweni takes no prisoners and skips the BS

But there is something that neither Mboweni nor SARS is dealing with explicitly: the political insurance that characters like Mazzotti buy to guarantee political immunity. It's one thing to commit a crime such as dodging tax, which is what Mboweni and SARS are dealing with; it's another to buy insurance as a preemptive cover for crime you are about to commit or have committed.

Mazzotti had bought himself comprehensive political insurance. So he probably thought. A month before the ANC's 54th elective conference in 2017, social media pictures emerged of presidential candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma flanked by Mazzotti and his colleague. It was alleged Mazzotti bankrolled her campaign. It is unthinkable that Dlamini-Zuma would have liked such pictures published.

But it is difficult not to conclude the pictures were splashed in the public domain precisely for the benefit of Mazzotti, who more likely wanted to show he was "covered" by political insurance – as if Dlamini-Zuma would do his bidding if she took over the presidency of the ANC and subsequently the country. 

There is something terribly cocky about the pictures and indeed about characters like Mazzotti. But, who wouldn't be arrogant when armed with political insurance?

If it is true that Mazzotti funded Dlamini-Zuma, he was extending the political cover from the insurance he had bought from the Economic Freedom Fighters. He had funded the EFF. And Julius Malema's family has been renting one of Mazzotti's houses in an upmarket Gauteng suburb.

ALSO READ: Mazzotti denies funding NDZ campaign

The R500 000 Bosasa donation to Cyril Ramaphosa's ANC presidential campaign could be interpreted as another form of political insurance. And the revelations, at the time when senior Bosasa executives were preparing to spill the corruption beans at the state capture inquiry, suggest it could have been a strategy to twist Ramaphosa's hand to stall the inquiry into Bosasa.

Opposition also vulnerable

Former ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize did not conceal the fact that his party had received a few millions from the controversial Guptas. Interestingly, when the Gupta state capture scandal grew and the Democratic Alliance became outspoken against it, a letter signed by former DA leader Helen Zille thanking the Guptas for donating to the party surfaced. To spice it up, a picture depicting Zille and one of the Gupta brothers clearly comfortable in each other's company also went viral on social media.

It was almost as if someone had sought to buy political insurance by donating to the official opposition. The benefit of the cover would have been political silence in the face of looting. 

This goes to show it's not only the governing party whose influence or political insurance can be purchased by corrupt elements. The question, of course, is whether the political party whose insurance being "purchased" is aware of the intention of the buyer and whether, when trouble comes, the party or its leaders do actually provide the intended benefit. 

One of the scandals to hit Eskom was the suspicious circumstances under which an Eskom contractor, Impulse International, obtained tenders to the tune of R1bn from the power utility. Koketso Choma, the step daughter of Matshela Koko, one of Eskom's top executives, was a director of Impulse which paid her millions of rands. A week after it broke the story, the Sunday Times followed up with another scoop: Impulse gave the ANC R1.7m. 

Was the follow-up revelation a bragging strategy to demonstrate invincibility as part of the benefits that come with political insurance? It is difficult not to reach this conclusion especially considering the fact that Koko regularly comments about Eskom issues almost as if he was never part of the problem. To be fair, however, his views are also sought after by the media. But did the funding by Impulse serve as insurance for immunity from prosecution? Time will tell.

In 2017 it emerged that the managing director of Prasa's dodgy contractor Swifambo Rail Leasing paid millions of rands into an account of a lawyer who had introduced himself as an ANC fundraiser. It's not known if the money ever reached the ANC or whether the party's name was used by the said lawyer to pocket the money. 

If it was intended for the ANC, it means the contractor was attempting to buy political insurance because it knew, as the court eventually determined, that the contract was irregular. It was set aside by the courts.

More recently, shortly after it became apparent that VBS bank had been looted by politically connected criminals and unethical accountants, it was also reported that some of the loot ended up in the accounts of the ANC and associates of EFF leaders Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu. (They have denied receiving VBS money.)

A money laundering account was allegedly used to channel money to people close to the two leaders. However, one of the VBS's executives reportedly instructed a VBS employee to process payment to the slush account because it was "strategic". There can be no better explanation of what political insurance means to the corrupt than the "strategic purpose" it serves. 

Nobody immune

No political party or leader is immune from political insurance buying. Political parties and leaders must take practical steps to mitigate against it. As part of being accountable to the public, political parties and leaders must explain how they intend not to act on behalf of political insurance buyers. 

Disclosure of funders as provided for in the yet-to-be implemented legislation is a major step forward. But much more is needed to improve public confidence in political parties. Political parties and their leaders must demonstrate to the public that they do not provide comprehensive political insurance cover to anyone. 

Successful prosecution of insurance purchasers will go a long way to show the futility of political insurance. Failure to prosecute them would mean one of the most dangerous forms of corruption will become the norm – to the detriment of our republic.

- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  adriano mazzotti
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