BUSISIWE MAVUSO: Prosecutions should follow publication of Zondo report

POSTED ON: June 28, 2022 IN by Admin
Zondo Zondo

By Busisiwe Mavuso

Publication of the full Zondo report is only the first step.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State will go down as a momentous occasion in South Africa’s history. It is the first step in rebuilding a country that puts its people first by protecting them from the destruction caused when political leaders subvert democracy for their own ends.

Headed by Judge Raymond Zondo, the commission’s report, made up of five volumes, clearly highlights cadre deployment as being the key catalyst for state capture and emphasises that the practice is unconstitutional

With the country still struggling to overcome the ravages of the state capture era, the Zondo report is a massive achievement. It symbolises the strength of our judicial system and while state capture itself was responsible for hollowing out many organs of state, particularly SARS and SOEs, we have much to be proud of in our state institutions. Our judiciary withstood repeated attacks during and after the state capture era by powerful politicians and this report is showing the world that it is indeed impartial and acts without fear or favour.

In the coming months and years, our institutions are again going to be tested to the full. Many of those who face prosecution are powerful cadres and have a lot to lose and their actions to subvert judicial processes will grow more and more desperate.

Of course, publication of the full Zondo report is only the first step. The next step, as we see it, has three elements, each of which forms an essential plank of the foundation for the type of country we wish to build.

The first is to implement the recommendations to prosecute those implicated and the law must take its course, confirming that all arms of government will fulfil their mandates impartially. That will send a strong signal globally: that there is full accountability no matter how high an office a person holds. And we need to act quickly. Because of the avalanche of cases requiring prosecution, careful prioritising may be needed. The extradition process for Rajesh and Atul Gupta who were arrested in Dubai also needs to be accelerated.

The second element is to build the institutions and processes recommended by Judge Zondo to help prevent corruption in future. Central to that is to establish an anti-corruption agency that has teeth. Another important aspect is to set up a statutory body to vet prospective directors of SOEs for suitable qualifications and integrity. This would put an end to political appointments.

The above two elements were highlighted in earlier reports and in his final report Judge Zondo put forward a fresh set of recommendations aimed at improving accountability to voters within the electoral system. He also suggests measures to ensure that our institutions never again enable a president to hand over control of the country over to anyone.

He writes: “After the commission heard the kind of evidence over a period of about four years, including the [role] played by President Zuma in helping the Guptas loot taxpayers’ money … we are bound to ask the question: how did this country end up having as president someone who could act the way President Zuma acted?”

The judge recommends numerous measures to improve voter accountability.

He takes aim at parliament, stating that its failure to hold the executive to account contributed to state capture. He examined several committees including the portfolio committees on public enterprises, home affairs and mineral resources and notes that they did not ask important questions and even sought to protect some ministers that appeared before them.

He is particularly scathing of the ANC for blocking investigations into state capture and highlights 2016 – a time when week after week newspapers were exposing yet another new tender scam linked to the Guptas and it was widely known that the country was in effect being run by the family from their Saxonwold estate, through their involvement in appointing cabinet ministers and CEOs of SOEs with Jacob Zuma’s full co-operation. Zondo notes that the governing party would not support requests by opposition parties for a portfolio committee to look into the allegations.

The major step he recommends to improve voter accountability, though, is aimed not at parliament but at the electoral system itself. He suggests amending the constitution to allow the direct election of the president. This is aimed at ensuring anyone who becomes the president does so on the basis of their popularity with the people and that Parliament (in practice, a party) no longer appoints the president.

He also recommends that the Van-Zyl Slabbert Commission Report on Electoral Reform of 2003 be revisited. It recommended a more accountable mix of constituency-based and proportional representation but was never adopted.

Is it time to reform our electoral system? It’s certainly time to renew the debate.

In the meantime our country is still grappling to overcome the damaging effects of state capture today. Our SOEs are in financial distress with debt levels having soared, triggering multiple downgrades on their credit ratings. With Transnet and Eskom having been the two prime centres of the looting, our network industries – electricity, rail and ports – are still largely dysfunctional, putting a handbrake on our economic recovery prospects.

Similarly, SA’s sovereign debt-to-GDP ratio also climbed alarmingly, pushing the country’s credit ratings into junk status, making it more expensive for the government to take on more debt and increasing the risk premium on investing in SA.

The culprits have a lot to answer for.

• Mavuso is CEO of Business Leadership SA. This article first appeared in Business Day.

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