Speaking up about corruption would get you fired - top Treasury official

Treasury's Ismail Momoniat. (File, Netwerk24)
Treasury's Ismail Momoniat. (File, Netwerk24)

Johannesburg- The day President Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president and several Gupta associates appeared in court Ismail Momoniat, head of tax and financial sector policy at National Treasury, revealed some of the difficulties public servants have faced in trying to stop corruption.

“In our country, it’s been extremely frustrating in the Treasury… you would get fired if you acted. There’s reports on the Vrede dairy farm, there’s reports on Tegeta, yet you couldn’t act, because the man at the top didn’t want you to act and would fire people," he said at the Wits Business School in Parktown on Thursday evening.

Momoniat, who formed part of a panel discussion on money laundering, state capture and the role of UK institutions, asked why the Hawks only started working this week on making the arrests at the Gupta compound.

“The problem is politics does shape what people do and most people fall in line with the politicians so like somebody said, just like it’s hard to find anyone against apartheid, it’s hard to find anyone against state capture,” he told the packed lecture hall, with standing room only.

With Jacob Zuma resigning on Wednesday night, Momoniat spoke honestly about what he saw as the former president's shortcomings.

“I mean the most incredible thing is this, you have [former finance] deputy minister Jonas being offered this post and the president not calling him up once to say what happened, and he’s not taking any interest if it happened that someone is undermining his authority.

“So the fact is if people don’t ask questions, be it the president, the regulators, the constituting authorities because when we had discussions people said nobody’s laid charges, nobody’s done this...  It’s in all the damn newspapers but they aren’t curious," Momoniat said.

According to Momoniat, if the state is to tackle corruption the mindset of professionals within government, such as those within internal audit units, needs to change and they should face being struck off the roll if they don’t act against wrongdoing.

Eskom and Transnet boards 'shocking'

Continuing to speak frankly, to loud applause from the capacity venue, Momoniat called the appointments of board members at Eskom and Transnet “shocking”, saying he is happy that Ramaphosa has raised the issue of the way appointments to state-owned entities are made. 

Momoniat said government makes security vetting a priority, but he would like to see a process where people are vetted for honesty.

He also complained of “rampant corruption” at the Department of Mineral Resources for the approval process for granting mining rights, an issue the Chamber of Mines has been concerned about since Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane was moved into the position in 2015.

South African-born British politician Lord Peter Hain, who has been vocal about state capture and UK-based companies' involvement, chaired the panel. He asked Momoniat if Treasury has the capacity to fight corruption.

Momoniat replied that despite the exodus of several senior officials in recent months, Treasury has the ability to tackle graft but requires cooperation by the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Dubai bank accounts

With the Budget Speech less than a week away and speculation rife that Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba is in the firing line, Momoniat took a dig at his boss, who denies a bank account was opened up in his name in Dubai while he was minister of public enterprises. 

“…and to be cheeky, lots of politicians here say they don’t have accounts in Dubai, I say come to us and give us the power of returning, for someone to go and fish whether there are accounts in their name even where we don’t have agreements.

“If you’re a clean politician or even public servant I’m sure you won’t be afraid to check whether there’s an account for you."

In 2014, the Mail & Guardian reported that state security had investigated Gigaba over the Dubai account.

Momoniat recommended annual lifestyle audits for politicians and senior public servants such as himself, and that all bank accounts be declared.

He admitted that while the Financial Intelligence Centre and tax authorities have memoranda of understanding with many countries, getting information about suspicious financial transactions from Dubai is difficult.

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