Adriaan Basson: It's time to see some CEOs in orange jumpsuits

Emergency services work on the scene of the Grayston bridge collapse in 2015 that claimed the lives of two people.
Emergency services work on the scene of the Grayston bridge collapse in 2015 that claimed the lives of two people.

As the country waits with bated breath for the "state capture arrests" to start – hopefully before Christmas – the names of some top private sector executives should also be on the NPA's "priority list", writes Adriaan Basson.

Steinhoff. Regiments. Sekunjalo. Tongaat Hulett. Murray & Roberts Construction. Nemai Consulting.

What do these companies have in common? They have all been implicated in criminal conduct in the past year. They are yet to be charged in a court of law and their CEOs or former CEOs continue to live the high life.

As much as I despise the attempts by some quarters to drive a wedge between public and private sector corruption – every corrupt deal I have ever covered involved a government employee AND a private businessperson – one cannot deny that the crooks in suits have benefitted from the capture of our criminal justice system.

Despite some damning forensic reports, we are yet to see a powerful CEO in the dock for stealing from the public, his shareholders and/or clients, or for the loss of life.

As the country waits with bated breath for the "state capture arrests" to start – hopefully before Christmas – the names of some top private sector executives should also be on the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) "priority list".

Much has been written about what Markus Jooste (Steinhoff), Litha Nyonyha (Regiments) and Iqbal Survé (Sekunjalo) have allegedly done to deserve their day in court. Barely a day goes by that we don't read or report on their alleged misdemeanours.

Last week, the bombshell dropped at sugar producer Tongaat Hulett that its former CEO, Peter Staude, and top executives were allegedly involved in fraudulently misstating financial statements, that boosted the company's profits and assets. For many years, Staude was lauded as a "captain of industry" who led with integrity.

The company's new management has handed over a damaging forensic report by PwC to the police and NPA.

Cases like these should be prioritised by the police's commercial crimes unit and the NPA and shouldn't be allowed to disappear on the long list of the civil court roll.

The department of labour recently released a damning report into the Grayston Drive bridge collapse tragedy of October 2015, that claimed the lives of Adrian Doodnath and Siyabonga Myeni and injured 19 more people.

A pedestrian and cycling bridge weighing 120 ton collapsed on the M1 highway after the road was declared safe for traffic. A commission of inquiry that heard evidence by some of the top engineers in the country found Murray & Roberts Construction (MRC), the main contractor, and three other entities liable for the bridge collapse.

City Press published the details of the report on Sunday. It is a frightening indictment against MRC; the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), that awarded the tender; Form-Scaff, that provided the scaffolding, and safety inspector Nemai Consulting.

The department recommends that the four entities be prosecuted for contravening the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Naturally, the implicated parties differ with some of the department's findings and the report may yet be taken on review.

The factual findings are astonishing.

MRC appointed a candidate engineer to oversee the project. He reported to a contract manager, who was not a qualified engineer and had no prior experience of building bridges. No engineer was appointed to oversee the design of the temporary steel structure that collapsed. Drawings only meant to determine the bill of quantities were used to build the bridge and several reinforcements were omitted. Altogether 95 bolts that had to keep parts together were missing.

The bridge was a disaster waiting to happen and should never have been opened for public use. Nemai Consulting failed to stop the project due to safety concerns.

The department has not single out individuals that should be prosecuted, but it will be up to the NPA to decide if and who they will charge. The candidate engineer refused to tell the inquiry who gave him the go-ahead for the highway to be opened.

These are the kind of questions the police and the NPA should get answers to if they want the public to trust them to also go after thugs in suits.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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