Editorial | A lesson from De Lille: Quash corruption now

Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille.
Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille.

The stench of corruption from government contracts has angered a South African public that is already stressed by the Covid-19 coronavirus and its attendant lockdowns, deaths and prohibitions on alcohol and cigarettes.

If it is not Eastern Cape scooters that do not meet the emergency medical service standards, it is the awarding of tenders for personal protective equipment to politically connected people. The problem is not only tenders being given irregularly, but that the prices charged by these companies are unreasonably inflated. Many of these companies are not even competent in the areas they get awarded tenders for. They are formed purely for the purpose of taking advantage of government tender opportunities – mostly by being intermediaries.

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But the bigger problem is not just corruption, it is that, when exposed, the corrupt are seldom dealt with immediately and decisively. We have just learnt that former national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, who was suspended from his post three years ago on corruption allegations, earned a full salary during his suspension. Yes, Phahlane has still not been found guilty of those charges, but it is untenable that no immediate disciplinary action was taken to resolve the matter.

Cabinet and senior officials can take a leaf from Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille’s book. This week, she suspended her department’s director-general, Sam Vukela, and immediately instituted a disciplinary process. Vukela is accused of irregular conduct in the awarding of state funeral contracts and irregular appointments within senior management at the department. A disciplinary process means Vukela can either clear his name and resume his work or be found guilty and receive commensurate sanction.

The practice of asking accused people to take a leave of absence or step aside is often decided on to assuage public anger without any real intention to bring the matter to finality. The lesson from De Lille is simple – charge those against whom accusations are made and save taxpayers money by not “suspending” people for years.


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