If the South African Rugby Union is going to continue their defence of Jurie Roux, they should strike "well-governed" from their official corporate vision with immediate effect and replace it with "profitable and legally compliant", argues Daniel Malan.
In soccer, if you score an own goal, you go back to the halfway mark and start again. In rugby, if you "score" in such a way it’s called "carried over" and you get a second chance to defend through a five-meter scrum. Jurie Roux, CEO of the South African Rugby Union (SARU), scored an own goal in soccer terms, but his team seems to be reluctant to go back for the restart. To make matters worse, the defence of SARU seems to be that he scored the own goal before the start of the game.
Here is a quick recap of the well-known and uncontested facts. Jurie Roux made illegal payments from unauthorised cost centres between 2002 and 2010 when he was director of finance at Stellenbosch University. The payments were made to the Maties Rugby Club, where he coincidentally happened to be the president of the Club. After an extensive arbitration process, Roux was ordered to pay R37 million to the university.
In their ruling, the Arbitration Appeal Tribunal panel said: "Mr Roux's strategy was in various instances glaringly evasive, consisting, as it did, of reams of bald denials in his ultimately amended plea. His evidence was no different: evasive and argumentative, and smacked of sophism."
Roux is now heading back to the courts to appeal the finding against his previous appeal. Does that strategy sound vaguely familiar? While the law – of course – should always run its course, it is perhaps useful to analyse the situation from the perspective of ethical principles rather than legal loopholes.
Let’s begin with the typically South African claim to good governance, and quote from the constitution of SARU: "The principles and the best practice recommendations set out in the Code of Governance Principles for South Africa - King IV … shall apply as a guideline to the governance of SARU." As a reminder, one of the very first stipulations of King IV is that the board of directors should "act ethically beyond mere legal compliance".
Now let’s move to the SARU Code of Conduct, in terms of which a person:
- shall not do anything which adversely affects, or have the potential to adversely affect the relationship between SARU and its stakeholders, including but not limited to the sponsors of SARU;
- shall not do anything which result in negative media publicity of SARU; and
- may not engage in conduct, behaviour or practices which may be detrimental to the best interests of SARU.
In terms of SARU’s Disciplinary and Judicial Matters Regulation, a person shall be guilty of an offence and subject to sanction if found to have breached, failed to comply with or contravened the SARU Code of Conduct; brought SARU or the game into disrepute, or engaged in conduct, behaviour or practices which are detrimental to the interests of SARU or of the game. Penalties for such offences include expulsion from any or all positions in SARU.
And yet, what is the argument of his defenders? They claim that the offences happened before he joined SARU, and although they acknowledge the offences, they claim that he must keep his job to pay the penalty! Mark Alexander, president of SARU, says: "It must be remembered that this happened with his previous employer and not with SA Rugby."
What utter nonsense!
One only needs to think of any number of unutterable offences to have been committed with a previous employer to put this argument to bed. And then Mr Roux’s lawyer explains his call to Stellenbosch University for him to keep his job (as if the institution were in any position to guarantee this) as follows: "The purpose of my call … was to discuss a realistic payment plan in accordance with my client's financial circumstances without placing his employment and ability to generate income under risk."
SARU’s official corporate vision is to provide "well-governed, world-class, innovative sporting entertainment; and sustainable high-performance systems, processes and people." But the true reason for keeping Roux seems to be his ability to run a commercial enterprise.
From the latest SARU annual report: "SA Rugby aims to grow the brand in a manner that will encourage more sponsorship, translating into increased turnover. With more money to put back into the sport, SA Rugby can increase its appeal among prospective young players and create more winning teams."
If SARU is going to continue their defence of Jurie Roux, they should strike "well-governed" from their vision with immediate effect and replace it with "profitable and legally compliant". Just like Jacob Zuma, Roux and his employers seem to employ every trick in the book to keep the legal argument alive. But just like our former president, they seem to be very thin on the ethical basis for their argument.
Daniel Malan is the co-chair of the B20 Integrity and Compliance Task Force and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Transparency and Anti-Corruption. He is an assistant professor in business ethics at Trinity College Dublin and an associate professor extraordinaire at the Stellenbosch Business School, Stellenbosch University.
Views expressed are his own.