High-flying criminals will get their comeuppance

POSTED ON: March 10, 2020 IN by Admin

As big business we are working tirelessly to stem the rising tide of crime.

By Busi Mavuso

The NPA is slowly beefing up and joint action by business, the government and civil society is sure to yield results

It’s time to talk about crime.

South Africa has so many problems, with the coronavirus the latest crisis to add to our recessionary woes, that I’m sure many people sometimes feel overwhelmed.

So when I tell you that more than R100m is estimated to be lost to the fiscus every day due to illicit trade in goods including cigarettes, vehicles, fuel and medical supplies, the intention is not to tip you over into full despair, to give up on the country. Similarly, don’t despair at the slow pace of prosecutions coming out of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The important message is that, tackling each challenge in a methodical, sensible manner is the way to overcome each one. And strong moves are afoot to address all facets of crime in SA: daily criminal activity, corruption and illicit trade.

Given the pressing need to address government over-expenditure in the budget along with other pressing social welfare needs, it was not too surprising that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s allocation of an additional R2.4bn to the NPA, Special Investigating Unit and Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation when almost unnoticed.

The increase is important for many reasons. I’ve been a strong advocate for consequences for the criminal behaviour that took place during state capture and I’ve shared the frustration of many that we have not been seeing the arrests and prosecutions we know should be happening. But the ruin of the NPA was a key part of the strategy of the architects of state capture and it is taking time to repair it. The extra budget allocation will be a big help.

Of the R2.4bn, R1.8bn is going to help the NPA increase its compensation budget and improve capacity in asset forfeiture and specialised commercial crime units, among others. These are critical functions needed to tackle not only the egregious theft of public resources by those working for the state, but also corruption in the private sector we’ve seen at the likes of Steinhoff and VBS.

I am confident that, while it may take longer than all of us would like, national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi, NPA investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje and the rest of their team will bring the culprits of state capture to court to face the consequences of the actions that did so much damage to the economy.

Cronje explained to parliament’s justice and correctional services committee last week why prosecutions are taking so long. She said critical issues needed to be solved first, such as building the directorate’s cyber capability and data analytics capacity in order to establish evidence. “There are no quick fixes, no short cuts,” she emphasised. On top of that, Batohi explained that there was so much corruption across the government, including at municipal level and in state-owned enterprises, that it was necessary to prioritise.

Confronting private sector malfeasance is every bit as important as confronting it in the public sector – and it is this area where we as a country are perhaps lacking. The history of prosecuting criminal behaviour by the private sector in SA is not a proud one. Tigon’s Gary Porritt, for example, has still not faced consequences 14 years after his company collapsed, owing investors millions.

In terms of the scourge of illicit trade, just imagine how an extra R36.5bn a year would have helped the minister in his recent budget, not to mention in the difficult years to come. Tax Justice South Africa estimates that is how much was lost to the economy last year through illicit trade – in vehicles, fuel, alcohol, tobacco and medical products, among others. This is a widespread problem, along with hi-jacking of trucks and robbing of legitimate businesses in broad daylight.

SARS has implemented some measures within the tobacco industry to address illicit trade and there have been some improvements in the amounts declared. However, what we have seen is that crime patterns move: once you address one modus operandi of committing crimes, a different one pops up. Government needs to be flexible to respond to changing crime patterns.

Dealing with illicit trade and in so doing, reaping greater reward for the country, is just one of those challenges that we must address as a nation. Not only is there benefit to our fiscal state, but there’s a strong social reward as well.

BLSA, under the auspices of Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA), is driving interventions to reduce or limit, on a sustainable basis, illegal vehicle imports. Actions undertaken include the training of customs and police officials and improving public awareness and education.

This illicit trade is not solely a state or business problem, it is a national problem and there is absolutely no way that SARS can achieve the necessary results on its own. We are going to have to get citizens and in particular the buyers of this merchandise educated about the impact of this illicit form of trade as it directly affects their employment opportunities.

BACSA is also acting to address wider criminal issues that directly affect the security of citizens through the Eyes and Ears Initiative (E2), an official joint crime fighting initiative with the South African Police Service and the private security industry. The important part of this initiative, which has already been launched in the Western Cape and Gauteng, with the launches in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape scheduled for May, is that it draws in the wide geographical footprint the private security industry. The main goals are to share information and enhance response times to crimes, but there is a host of other benefits from pooling resources in a non-competitive manner.

As slowly as they seem to be turning, the wheels of justice are grinding inexorably onwards.

As big Business we are working tirelessly to stem the rising tide of crime, and it is for this reason that under the auspices of BACSA, we will be holding anti-corruption dialogues titled: Cost of Illicit Trade on the Fiscus, with the first event taking place in Johannesburg on 10 March 2020 and the other in Cape Town on 17 March 2020.

A version of this article was first published in Business Day on 10 March 2020

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