Underwhelming response on the Zondo recommendations, Mr President, South Africa needed more

The country needs more than lip service to undo and prevent state capture. Sadly, progress on tangible action seems slow.

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24/10/2022 13:31:58

.Image: OUTA

Underwhelming response on the Zondo recommendations, Mr President, South Africa needed more

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) says while it welcomes President Ramaphosa reporting back to the nation about the recommendations made by the Zondo Commission, it hoped for a far more informative and action-based response. 

“The President had four months to study the report. We are disappointed that after four months he largely appeared to repeat and summarise the recommendations by the State Capture Commission that apply to the Presidency, Executive and Parliament,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO. “While he paid a lot of lip service to the fight against state capture, the President’s report lacks substantial plans and concrete decisions on what or how he intends to implement the recommendations of the State Capture report.”

Rudie Heyneke, OUTA’s Portfolio Manager on State Capture, says that while it is good the President acknowledged that state capture took place and was extremely damaging, the President missed an excellent opportunity to take the nation into his confidence on real progress and future action on this matter. “President Ramaphosa has a dual responsibility to act on the recommendations, both as president of the country and of the ruling party. His feedback to the nation underlined the fact that South Africans will most likely not see any real action on the matter before the ANC’s national conference in December.”

We believe the outcome of the ANC’s electoral conference could have an impact on implementation of the recommendations, depending on who is voted in. “This may be the reason why the President missed a good opportunity to introduce meaningful action now,” Duvenage says.

Heyneke pointed out that the President in many instances seemingly didn’t fully accept Chief Justice Zondo’s recommendations. “For instance, while he promised more oversight with the appointment of board members for SOE boards, the Commission actually recommended legislative changes to ensure the establishment of a Standing Appointment and Oversight Committee tasked to ensure, via public processes, that those nominated for SOE boards, as CEOs, CFOs or Chief Procurement Officers meet ‘professional, reputational and eligibility requirements’.” 

Heyneke says it is concerning that the biggest proposed changes to prevent future state capture are left in the hands of Parliament. “OUTA published our fourth annual report on oversight of Parliament on 17 October, and in that we again found that Parliament has failed South Africa, particularly because it failed to stop state capture. Therefore, we are concerned that Parliament will most likely be the biggest stumbling block when it comes to real change, as certain laws will have to be rewritten. By now we know that Parliament excels at delaying and avoiding actions that do not suit the ruling party, and more so since many people involved in state capture are still Members of Parliament, some in key positions.” 

OUTA welcomes the announcement that the NPA’s Investigating Directorate (ID) has been made a permanent part of law enforcement. However, for the ID to make a real difference in the fight against state capture, it urgently needs additional, very capable legal, investigating and forensic auditing capacity. “To employ experts in these fields, the ID requires significant additional funding, and it remains to be seen where the money will come from,” says Heyneke. 

It is interesting to note that the President didn’t address matters like the ruling party’s role in state capture, or the issue of cadre deployment and how this undermined many state-owned entities and government departments. “In addition, the President did not mention any planned action against any members of Cabinet implicated in state capture or corruption. Their involvement has been known for years – why has he not acted? Where is the accountability to voters? And the transparency in the fight to save our country?” asks Heyneke.

Many current MPs, as well as ministers and deputy ministers, have been implicated by the Zondo report as beneficiaries of state capture. Amongst them are:

Zizi Kodwa, Deputy Minister of State Security, indebted to EOH;

Siyabonga Cwele, former Minister of State Security and now ambassador to China, implicated in playing a big role in the capture of the State Security Agency (SSA);

Gwede Mantashe, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, who received home security systems from Bosasa;

David Mahlobo, former Minister of State Security and currently the Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, also implicated in the capture of the SSA; 

Deputy President David Mabuza, implicated in land grabs and other corruption in Mpumalanga, who has now been delegated by the President to interact with Parliament’s presiding officers on implementing the recommendations; and

Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who abused her powers as former Minister of Defence by, amongst other things, transporting members of the ANC on a state flight to Zimbabwe in 2020.

“The President’s promise to act on the recommendation of the Commission and the High-Level Panel on the SSA is a very positive step in the right direction,” says Heyneke. “However, we are looking forward to definitive action against all the implicated ministers and MPs.” 

In his report, the President referred to the good progress, money recovered and referrals made to various law enforcement agencies such as the NPA, SIU Special Tribunal, SARS and AFU, some of which has new leadership. “We believe that, while the President sees this as good progress, this is actually what these institutions are meant to do and what we expect of them. The recovery of around R9 billion in four or five years is not really a big deal if it is measured against what has been stolen and looted. What would have been welcome is an outline of some of the recoveries and how the money will be used to further the fight against corruption. We also would have liked to hear from the President how these institutions will be strengthened to ensure that they can do their jobs faster and more effectively,” says Heyneke.

While President Ramaphosa mentioned the Zondo Commission’s proposed establishment of an Independent Public Procurement Anti-Corruption Agency and a permanent Anti-Corruption Commission, he made no firm promises on these, except to say that a “comprehensive proposal on an effective and integrated anti-corruption institutional framework will be produced for public consultation, finalisation and implementation”.

On the matter of whistleblowers, OUTA notes with concern that there has been little or no progress on the matter of assisting them. “It is all good to say we are directly indebted to whistleblowers for exposing state capture, but nothing has been done to assist these whistleblowers practically, many of whom are struggling to survive financially,” says Duvenage. “The President must make it his priority to see to it that the various departments and SOEs are compelled to assist, support and/or re-employ the many whistleblowers in tangible ways, as soon as possible.”

OUTA welcomes the Presidency’s announcement on the establishment of a centralised Programme Management Office (PMO) to coordinate the efforts of the institutions that are responsible for executing the response plan, being the Steering Committee and Cabinet. The Steering Committee will report to Cabinet on a quarterly basis, which will inform regular updates to the country by the President. “This sounds like a good plan, but who will appoint this committee, and will this committee introduce mechanisms to include input from civil society? OUTA notes with concern that there is a lot of centralisation in the Presidency, which is not ideal. All the more so, since the current administration only has about 18 months left in office to institute real changes before the 2024 election,” Heyneke adds.

President Ramaphosa’s vague references to much-needed electoral reform are noted with concern, says Duvenage. “The President mentioned the recommendations on reforming the electoral system, yet Parliament left this so late that it is possible that the changes won’t be implemented in time for the 2024 elections. Since this is an issue OUTA is already involved in, we will keep a close eye on further developments in this regard,” Duvenage says.

More information

A soundclip with comment by OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage is here.

On 17 October, OUTA published our fourth annual report on oversight of Parliament, which again found that Parliament has failed South Africa, particularly because it failed to stop state capture. See more here.

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