Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Mkhwebane 'should join the struggle against state capture'

2016-10-21 10:25

Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has made some interesting remarks in her first few days in office. 

She has vowed her office will never use foreign donor funds because this might impact on the sovereignty of the country and the independence of her office. She should be given a standing ovation for this stance. 

Notwithstanding the fact that she apparently had wrong information that her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, used donations from the international development funder USAid, Mkhwebane's sensitiveness to things that might affect the sovereignty of the Republic deserves applause. 

Madonsela has rejected as "blatant lies" claims that she had used foreign donor money. Mkhwebane must check her facts and communicate the correct information if she wants to earn public trust like Madonsela. 

But her views on safeguarding her independence and protecting the sovereignty of the country are important given the proverbial elephant in the room: a president who has been captured by wealthy Indian nationals. This is the single biggest risk the country faces. Madonsela tackled it head-on when she received complaints of state capture. 

But the capturers and the captured won't go down without a fight. During her investigation into state capture Madonsela squared off with the president who wouldn't answer questions. She finalised a report which Mkhwebane and her team will have to defend when it is taken on review by those who inevitably want to suppress the revelations about the mechanics of state capture, its consequences and implications.

If genuinely held, Mkhwebane's views about the sovereignty of the country and her independence should jolt her to join the struggle against state capture. 

The allegations of state capture have caused tensions within and among state organs. Senior civil servants and politicians have had to fend off instructions to pave the way for looting allegedly sanctioned by the president whose family stood to benefit.

Some suffered the consequences of rejecting illegal and unethical instructions. Some officials didn't have the necessary strength in their spines to resist acts of looting that have been given the green light from the top. They have been rewarded in a complicated state-capturing process that has its own carrot-and-stick incentive scheme.

State capture has planted seeds of deep-seated mistrust among members of the national executive. The Cabinet is split. There are those whose unwritten key performance indicators include working for the Guptas using state resources. They moonlight as public officials.

This has tarnished the integrity of the entire Cabinet. In terms of the Constitution, Cabinet members are jointly and individually responsible and accountable for their decisions. A divided Cabinet gets distracted. It cannot lead the nation towards realising its full potential. 

A president who leads a divided cabinet whose members differ not by the varied, enriching perspectives they bring, but by whether or not they serve the Guptas cannot possibly perform one of the most important constitutional obligations: to unite the nation. How can you unite the nation when your own actions have split the Cabinet into factions?

State capture is a threat to the stability of the Republic. It seeks to destroy the general rule of law, the rules of state and the consciences of public officials. The burden of protecting the integrity of the state is shouldered by those whose consciences resist destruction. They are the unsung heroes across the public service who are doing their best as patriotic citizens.

Without Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, Treasury director-general Fuzile Lungisa and Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago for example, state capture would have long been rolled out and completed. The Republic would have long been written off as a basket case. 

These public officials have illustrated that what is often referred to by credit rating agencies as "institutional strength", the good that so far has shielded us from junk status, is not automatic. Behind the "institutional strength" of Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the courts are people who go to work every day to ensure these institutions continue to serve the public purpose.

The battle Gordhan is waging against the Guptas in the court application to protect banks from undue political interference is essentially a war against state capture. You see, state capture needs the rich oils of the financial system to smooth its corrosive activities.

If Mkhwebane is genuinely concerned about protecting the sovereignty of the Republic there is no doubt that she'll protect the public institutions from capture. She'll be the person behind the "institutional strength" of the public protector's office. And she will defend the state capture report when it is released.

- Follow Mpumelelo Mkhabela on Twitter.

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