Dear OUTA supporters and followers
Dare I say it, we live in very interesting times and we believe the outcome of the ANC Leadership Elective Conference on 18 December is a turning point in the fight against corruption. I say this whilst also acknowledging that, while OUTA is an apolitical organisation (ie it does not align with political parties, nor is it supported by any party), we do follow political developments closely especially, when these affect our fight against the maladministration and corrupt use of tax revenues.
The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa as the head of the ANC now opens the doors for further opportunities to tackle state capture, general corruption and gross maladministration within Government, which are matters close to our heart. Of all the contenders for the ANC leadership race, it was Ramaphosa who spoke out loudest against corruption and state capture. It was Ramaphosa that appears most willing to tackle the corruption scourge that has cost our nation dearly over the past decade, under Jacob Zuma’s rule.
This does not mean that Ramaphosa doesn’t come with his own baggage. Nor are we saying that the fight against corruption is now over or that our work going forward will be an easy ride. Not at all. Rather, we are saying that with Jacob Zuma now out of the way as party president, there appears to be hope ahead in tackling the many serious concerns our country faces. The dynamics that unfold in the period leading up to the 2019 elections will be very interesting and telling indeed.
The fight against corruption and holding those to account for their part played therein, will become a heightened focus across many levels of civil society and political parties going forward. OUTA has a number of initiatives to ensure this matter does not rest and that hopefully – as we work with those in authority once the blockages are eventually removed within the NPA and the Hawks – many past and current leaders within the state will find themselves in court and behind bars. This will be a significant focus of OUTA’s work in the new year, along with the launch of additional strategies to take the OUTA model into the Local Governance space.
In this year-end newsletter, we have provided a summary of some of our work, which has been enabled by the thousands of supporters who donate each month to OUTA. It has been an extremely busy but exciting year for us, and we look forward to an even more exciting 2018.
As always, I’d like to thank each and every one of our supporters and wish all a safe and restful summer break, and look forward to working with you again in 2018.
“Following on the the new journey undertaken in 2016, OUTA further expanded its role to being well beyond the e-toll fight to a fully-fledged corruption fighting machine,” says Ben Theron, OUTA’s Chief Operating Officer. This involved both an update in organisational structure and governance, the launch of a new OUTA office in Cape Town to improve our engagement within Parliament, and to focus the continuity of numerous projects selected by the Executive Committee.
The anti-corruption action most notably involved presenting a comprehensive report (“No Room To Hide”) to Parliament on state capture, which has been used in a number of parliamentary inquiries and also in laying criminal charges against key officials.
OUTA also participated in formal partnerships with other civil organisations, forming a broader coordinated front against corruption.
Unity against corruption
One of the most exciting initiatives of how civil society was able to mobilise an extremely successful effort, was the national civil society driven protest marches on 7th April 2017. In addition, our leading role at the Conference for the Future of South Africa in July and the protests in support of the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to vote President Jacob Zuma out of office in August.
Driving the e-tolls cases
The e-toll issues have not been forgotten, and OUTA has continued on its founding journey in helping motorists who are facing civil claims from SANRAL over unpaid e-toll bills with a substantial defence against the e-toll system being compiled. The test case on the e-toll issue is expected in court in the new year, and SANRAL continues to issue text messages and summonses to trigger legal action against motorists. We will keep our followers and supporters up to date with developments as they unfold.
Tackling state capture
2017 will be remembered as the year of state capture.
The severe problem of state capture is not new: the state has for years ignored media reports of increasingly sophisticated and justified allegations of organised corruption at all levels of government, and it was most significantly identified in the Public Protector’s report “State of Capture”, released in November 2016. This report and the legal battles around it set the scene for 2017.
In May 2017, the #GuptaLeaks story broke, which triggers a chain of media statements and revelations which highlighted the breathtaking extent of the plundering of the state coffers by a gang run by the Gupta family, and the son of their close friend President Jacob Zuma. While the allegations of corruption and manipulation of top government connections weren’t new, what was new were the reams of evidence and revelations of the massive sums being looted, while those responsible for governance and law enforcement sat passively by and watched. Nearly six months later, the authorities continue to encourage looting by ignoring it and focussing instead on retaining their positions while the media united to provide in-depth exposes, and political parties and civil society increasingly turn to the courts to force accountability.
The problem now is not that there is insufficient evidence of state capture; rather, it is that the evidence and extent is so enormous that it is increasingly difficult to keep track of the players, the criminal activity, the sums looted and the new sources of information.
The disclosures from the #GuptaLeaks trove have been driven by amaBhungane, the Daily Maverick’s Scorpio team, News24, and Times Media, much of which was done in unprecedented cooperation between media houses to expose state capture. Civil society has similarly united, lobbying in Parliament and outside it, providing channels for whistleblowers and compiling research and investigations. There is now a substantial genre of in-depth reports and books on aspects of the organised corruption exposed.
OUTA has focused on laying criminal charges to encourage effective prosecution of key officials on serious corruption and state capture, using information that is publicly available, information from whistleblowers and documents from the #GuptaLeaks database. The criminal charges in each case were outlined in affidavits which OUTA compiled, to provide roadmaps for police investigators and prosecutors.
“OUTA understands that the criminal cases laid with the SAPS have been transferred to the Hawks for investigation. The Hawks have assured us they are taking the cases seriously and as such, we are taking the up on these investigations and assisting both the Hawks and the NPA to bring these cases to fruition,” says Theron.
Unless visible action is seen soon, OUTA will follow all possible avenues proceed on its own to court.
Building these cases is slow work and getting them through the legal system is even slower, but OUTA believes this is work worth pursuing as it gets these matters on record. These cases are the foundation of OUTA’s action against state capture and will be the basis of work in 2018.
And that’s not all
OUTA also worked on other actions aimed at countering corruption, including:
Stopping the Tshwane contract: In May, OUTA alerted the City of Tshwane to an irregular contract worth nearly R35 million and the metro suspended the contract. This arose from information from a whistleblower who opposed corruption, exposing the city’s contract to Tahal South Africa for a research contract that was essentially nonsense and jumped from R8 million to R30 million. The City of Tshwane is investigating this.
Water reports: On 11 January, OUTA sent a Promotion of Access to Information Act application to the Minister of Water Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane, asking her to publish the outstanding Blue Drop and Green Drop reports, the non-revenue water reports and the regulatory performance monitoring system reports. We’re still waiting. The lack of transparency in this department is an ongoing concern.
Watching over water funds: In April, OUTA again lobbied Minister Mokonyane, this time over the abuse of grants for water infrastructure.
Gauteng water future: On 23 July, OUTA started the first steps towards legal action aimed at requiring the government to secure the future of Gauteng’s water supply, publishing a report on the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme and concerns around the delays in this which have increased costs by about R2 billion so far.
Municipal water bill crisis: On 29 November, OUTA wrote to Gauteng Premier David Makhura, calling on the province to impose a recovery plan on the province’s municipalities which are defaulting on paying their water bills.
Transparency on policy and laws: On 10 July, OUTA launched a petition to Parliament calling for a change to the law to increase transparency by stopping public participation processes from being launched over the December/January holiday period. This collected 14899 signatures and was sent to Parliament.
Social grants: The social grants debacle underlined the dangers of state capture, with fears at the start of the year that the grant system would crumble until the Constitutional Court stepped in. OUTA worked behind the scenes on opposing the controversial “workstreams” parallel process set up by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and lobbying for their cancellation.
SABC: In January, OUTA laid charges against TV licence debt collectors Pritchard and Associates, linked to LornaVision, as they were not legally registered as debt collectors, and lobbied for the cancellation of this contract; later in the year the interim board cancelled it. OUTA campaigned to get rid of the controversial old board, worked with the interim board, repeatedly called for Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s firing (OUTA laid criminal charges against him in December 2016 which the Hawks say they are investigating), called for the board to reclaim ill-gotten gains and legal costs from Motsoeneng, and welcomed the promise of good governance with the new board. On 16 November, OUTA wrote to MultiChoice, calling on it to come clean on its involvement with the Guptas’ ANN7 channel and ditch it as viewers can’t opt out of ANN7 but are obliged to pay for it through DStv package deals.
Throughout the past two years and more so in 2017, OUTA campaigned against corruption in Eskom and unreasonably high electricity prices.
In February, OUTA filed a complaint at the Competition Commission, calling for the unbundling of Eskom due to its abuse of its monopolistic control over electricity supply and pricing; this matter is still under consideration.
In April, civil society organisations Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) won an important judgment in the Western Cape High Court which halted the government’s planned nuclear power deal and sent it back to start again with proper public consultation. OUTA had provided assistance to SAFCEI in this regard and compiled a documentary video on the Nuclear issue.
In May 2017, OUTA opposed the electricity price hikes for 24 municipalities as illegal; 13 were ultimately refused but another 20 were granted higher than standard increases, including some whose applications apparently hadn’t gone through the required public process.
In July, OUTA had a look at Eskom’s annual integrated results and found them wanting.
In August, OUTA won a decision by the National Energy Regulator (NERSA) that Eskom must provide information on costs it had wanted to keep secret; however, NERSA ultimately allowed Eskom to get away with redacting some key costs which OUTA again opposed during the price process.
In October, OUTA sent a substantial submission and later made a presentation to NERSA, opposing Eskom’s application for a 19.9% price increase from April 2018. Thousands of OUTA supporters flooded NERSA with submissions on Eskom’s application. It was a partial victory: Eskom had wanted a 19.9% increase, OUTA lobbied for 0% and NERSA decided on 5.23%. The next stage of this campaign is the municipal increase next year and OUTA will be watching.
Keep an eye on those bridges
Throughout 2017, OUTA’s team kept our causes in the public eye with regular protests on Gauteng’s freeway bridges. Watch out for our team in 2018.
OUTA set up a public participation portal to encourage public submissions to NERSA, which resulted in at least 19 000 submissions; our site was overwhelmed and could not count them all. NERSA subsequently said it had received an unprecedented 23 000 submissions on Eskom’s price request. This was the strongest public input ever on an electricity pricing decision: we don’t believe there were many supporters for Eskom’s increase in that collection.
On 15 December, NERSA awarded Eskom a price increase of 5.23%, which was well below the 19,9% they had applied for.
We believe your submissions made a difference, as NERSA acknowledged that it considered the effect on the economy and South Africa. Thank you, you helped keep that price increase down and the average price stays below R1/kWh.
“How does OUTA work?” and “Where does my monthly contribution go?” are two questions we are often asked…and we’re very happy to answer!
OUTA is a registered not-for-profit civil action organisation.
Our mission is to hold to account those in power who abuse their power and are involved in maladministration and the corrupt use of tax revenues. This is South Africa’s money and we are watching how it’s used.
Your subscriptions make our work possible.
Our team of professionals grew significantly in 2017 and we are nearing 40 staff members.
OUTA’s work is structured into 4 main teams:
Each case we take on is handled as a project.
These project teams can call on our investigators, researchers and communications staff to gather evidence and build cases. Our board of executive and non-executive directors oversee the work and maintain high standards.
As you can imagine, there is no shortage of work for us so we have to pick our battles carefully.
Once a project is agreed and approved, we usually follow a standard plan: we investigate, engage with sources of information, expose the issues, mobilise our supporters, and litigate.
So where else does my money go?
At OUTA, we strive to keep our salary expenses at a maximum of around 50% of total costs. Up to 15% goes to operational costs like rent. The remaining 35% is set aside for litigation purposes. Not all our litigation costs are spent each year, as we must provide for future litigation costs of each case as some may run for years: we call this our litigation war chest.
Your support has enabled us to grow our team from four to nearly 40 people, which means we are able to take on more of the good work.
Our structures are scaleable and the more supporters who help our efforts, the more we can take on. For example, right now we’re looking at areas much closer to where you live, like getting involved in local government challenges. We will be informing the public of this exciting new initiative by OUTA as ith grows over the next few years.
The work of tackling corruption and making South Africa a better place is not easy, but it is a quest we firmly believe in. Your continued support says you do too. Ordinary South Africans like you and OUTA will continue to combine our efforts to make life difficult for those who waste our government’s precious and hard-earned revenue as we strive to make South Africa prosper.