/OPINION: Six critical areas civil society are pushing the Zondo commission to crack down on

OPINION: Six critical areas civil society are pushing the Zondo commission to crack down on

2020-03-18 15:00

The reality of the modern globalised and financialised world is that corruption on a grand scale, along with organised crime and state capture, is enabled by skilled professionals, including bankers, lawyers, accountants and consultants, writes Naushina Rahim. 

“An Agenda for Action” was submitted almost a month ago to the State Capture Commission of Inquiry (Zondo commission) by the Civil Society Working Group on State Capture, a coalition of more than 23 civil society organisations.

The broad-ranging recommendations contained in this joint submission address urgent and necessary measures for reform of the state, the criminal justice system and oversight and accountability bodies.

It focuses equally on public sector and private sector enablers who allowed a system of state capture, which still lingers in our society, to prevail.  

It is imperative that the Zondo Commission releases an interim report of its findings to ensure that his initial findings are acted upon with urgency.

This is now even more relevant given the twelve month extension granted to the Commission earlier this month.  

Interim reports have been used to great effect by for example the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into the South African Revenue Service.

These sentiments have been echoed by others who actively remind the NPA not to wait before the Commission ends its term to begin to prosecute implicated parties where substantial evidence exists.  

These six themes all form part of civil societies proposed agenda for action  – meant to tackle corruption and state capture: 

How has corruption impacted the lives of South Africans? 

Buried beneath the murky mix of denials, bouts of ‘amnesia’ and truth bomb’s dropped at the Zondo Commission are the silenced voices of the victims of state capture. The joint submission presents the evidence of the human cost of state capture to the Zondo Commission.

Witnesses from communities across South Africa testified to their lived experience of the impact of corruption at the People’s Hearing on State Capture held in October 2019.

The panel of the people’s hearings  findings  call on the South African Human Rights Commission to use its powers to assist members of the public harmed by state capture to obtain redress like compensation.

It also urged the Zondo Commission to ensure that the voices of victim and not only the powerful form part of its deliberations.  

How do we address the systemic weakening of the criminal justice system? 

Manipulation of criminal justice agencies allowed high-level corruption to proliferate by ensuring that these agencies were able to disregard it, or were sometimes powerless to act.  

On the agenda are recommendations to help bridge gaps in appointment and dismissal processes of leaders in state-owned enterprises, as well as the lack of adequate skills and capacity within the criminal justice system.

The agenda also advocates for increased transparency by the NPA providing details of why decisions are made not to prosecute parties implicated in serious economic crimes.  

How should the rights of the most vulnerable be protected? 

Funds intended to pay for the delivery of services to effectively enshrined in the Bill of Rights (such as social grants, access to health-care services and access to basic education) have been diverted using schemes designed by corrupt networks engaged in plunder.

The recommendations address pervasive elements, including the irregular awarding of tenders, the irregular appointments of corruptible leaders, and the weakening of departments by dismissing or deliberate targeting whistle-blowers who spoke out against such practices.

Many of these elements were evident in the submission on the Estina-Vrede Dairy farm, for example.

The findings also illustrate that state capture is systemic and part of a much bigger network, not limited to the Gupta family.  

How do we protect our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) from being used as vehicles for state capture? 

These recommendations draw on individual submissions by members in the Working Group who have shared evidence of state capture of SOEs such as the SABC, Acsa, Prasa, Transnet, Denel, and Eskom.

Some of the highlights of the recommendations include interrogating the use of “emergency conditions” to initiate procurement deals, diffusing the power in SOE boards, dispersing the concentration of power in the Ministry and increasing whistle-blower protections.

Judge Zondo is called on to compel all witnesses to give testimony at the Commission, including political parties and private sector institutions. 

How do we hold the enablers of state capture to account?  

The reality of the modern globalised and financialised world is that corruption on a grand scale, along with organised crime and state capture, is enabled by skilled professionals, including bankers, lawyers, accountants and consultants.

The aim of these recommendations is to move the private-sector enablers of state capture from the periphery to the centre of its analysis of grand corruption.

The Working Group calls on Judge Zondo to question the fiduciary and other duties of these well-paid “legitimate” corporations who wrongfully present themselves as unwitting actors caught up in corruption scandals. 

How can we limit the corrosive impact of political party funding? 

There are too many gaps in existing political-party funding regulations giving rise to opportunities for wealthy private interests to unduly influence political parties.

The recommendations present ways to ensure that political parties become financially accountable and transparent to the electorate. Notably calling for the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) to be urgently gazetted so that it may be used in time before local government elections.  

In summary, the recommendations made by members of the Working Group in their fifteen submissions to Judge Zondo are intended to strengthen the Commission’s ability to make firm findings that can lead to systemic reform in the struggle against corruption and state capture.  

Citizens have witnessed political elites making empty promises to tackle high-level corruption.

This must change, and we must see real action and consequences if we are to continue to trust the democratic political order.

There must be accountability for corruption, and this must start with our leaders in politics, public institutions and private corporations who have enabled state capture.

Civil society will continue to expose failure to hold those who abuse power to account.

The oversight role of the Working Group extends to all institutions tasked with bringing into effect the recommendations contained in its submission. 

– Naushina Rahim is a legal Researcher at Open Secrets which is the convener of the Civil Society Working Group on State Capture

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