Sunday, 15 March 2015 00:00

Gwede Mantashe Is Conflicted

Recently, a friend quipped cynically that Gwede Mantashe must have encouraged the leaks of a dodgy tender that was awarded to a company in which his family members are involved. According to the legend, Mantashe saw this as a perfect opportunity to bolster his presidential credentials in a country where criminals, fraudsters and the corrupt have an easy passage to power than those who are qualified and competent.


Cynicism aside, the reports of inappropriate benefit by Mantashe’s relatives from a government tender should be viewed in a very serious light. In short, as this newspaper has uncovered, a company comprising family members of high ranking ANC cadres – Jacob Zuma, Lindiwe Zulu and Mantashe - was awarded a R631 million tender by Amathole District Municipality to build 66 000 toilets for rural villages.


Apart from the fact that procurement procedures were not followed, as this company was apparently imposed on the municipality, there is no noticeable progress thus far in the construction of the actual toilets, despite payments to the tune of R60 million. There are a two disturbing elements in this story.


The first is the implication that those who have intimate familial ties to senior political leaders can circumvent procurement rules and secure state tenders. Even if they were to meet procurement rules, technically, it would still be unethical for close relatives of high-ranking politicians to participate in state procurement projects. There is a guideline on what constitutes close relatives. The Public Administration Management Act 2014 (No. 11) defines these as parent, sister, brother, child or spouse. This is a red flag given their indirect proximity to power.


Second, poor communities are still without the promised sanitation services. If there is any evidence of a lack of commitment by the top leadership of the ANC at improving the quality of lives of the poor, this dodgy toilet tender is a glaring proof. Corruption is theft and anti-developmental.


Incidences of corruption involving members of the ANC abound. President Jacob Zuma set the stage on which this tragic drama is played out in various scenes. He fought off corruption allegations by making sure that his alleged graft is never scrutinized by a court of law. He has thus modeled the way for other party cadres. If you are corrupt, your prospects for rising to high office look brighter.


The Eastern Cape, which is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, could soon become the corruption capital of South Africa, if not already. The province has battled many allegations of fraud, corruption, nepotism and maladministration that are costly for the poor.


Some of the examples of graft include the 42 cases of corruption in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to the tune of R71 million between 2011 and 2013; and reports of nepotism, corruption and fraud amounting to R1.4bn in the provincial health department. There are many more incidents of fraud and corruption, taking place in various ANC run municipalities in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere.


What is heart-wrenching about the rise of corruption in the Eastern Cape is the fact that this is the poorest province in South Africa, and with the highest levels of unemployment at above 30%. The use of bucket system in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro increased from 22 500 in 2011 to 30 200 in 2013, under the ANC government. The Eastern Cape, which is known as the birthplace of ANC luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Govan Mbeki is now an ash heap of poverty and a monument of corruption.


ANC cadres have a way of rationalising corruption. They argue that it is not as bad as it used to be under apartheid. Some complain that the media highlights only the scandals involving ANC members or black people, leaving the corruption of the corporate sector untouched. It is as if the ANC is measuring itself by the standard of the apartheid system. Comparison with the corporate sector betrays a poor grasp of the ANC’s supposed leadership role in society. Zuma remarked late last year that corruption is a Western invention, and harms no one.


This is certainly not just an Eastern Cape problem. It has acquired a systemic character. The worms that are coming out at the top echelons of ANC leadership, suggest that this is no longer just a case of few rotten apples, but the entire orchard is accursed.


It is, therefore, unsurprising that South Africa has, since 2010, fared very badly on the measurements of global perceptions on corruption. For example, in 2010 the country was ranked at 54 out of 178 countries, where 1 is excellent and 178 dismal. The following year, South Africa fell 10 steps to 64. Having fallen from grace, it currently sits at 71. Corruption is often identified by investors as one of the major deterrents of doing business in South Africa.


There is social and material cost to corruption. It destroys public values and tears asunder a shared commitment to nurture and protect public institutions. If clean government maximises the quality of life of the ordinary people, corruption violates their dignity. Corruption depletes available resources for delivering services to the poor. If, as a result of corruption, projects take longer to come on stream or are never realised, employment opportunities will be limited.


Countries such as China that have, for decades battled with corruption, are now aware that this could be the single most important factor that could trigger political instability. In his book, The Governance of China, the Chinese president Xin Jinping points out that “Facts prove that if corruption is allowed to spread, it will eventually lead to the destruction of a party and the fall of a government.” He further exhorts: “Officials at all levels, especially high-ranking officials must…exercise self-discipline, strengthen education, and restrain their own family and staff.”


When leaders are seen to encourage dubious ethical behaviour, this communicates a message to the public that it is fine to take short cuts, to pay kickbacks, and to steal public money. Two years ago, Lindiwe Sisulu introduced a raft of policy measures intended at preventing public servants from doing business with the state. In December 2014, Zuma signed the Public Administration Management Act, 2014 (Act No. 11 of 2014), which amongst other things seeks to uphold high professional and ethical standards in the public service.


At the time of Sisulu’s initiative, I argued that as long as such measures are not targeted at the political leadership, especially of the governing party, they would be ineffectual. You cannot only outlaw civil servants from doing business with the state, leaving politicians off the hook, and hope to achieve great results. The real crooks are found amongst politicians, and public servants learn from them.


If Mantashe argues that it is fine for his family members to do business with the state, what would stop civil servants in municipalities and national government from implementing his logic? Mantashe occupies a supreme layer in the political hierarchy in South Africa, and has an indirect influence over the state bureaucracy. He should model the way, and set a high bar by insulating his family interests from state procurement opportunities.


Sadly, in a perverse political culture that defines the ANC today, it may just be that the shadowy power brokers and factions in the ANC will now see Mantashe as an ideal candidate to lead the party in the future, since he would be compromised; and they can continue to loot the state under his watch. Corruption is a serious issue. We should not tread lightly around it. Sooner or later it will wreak irreversible moral and economic damage to the country and its institutions.


This article was first published in the Daily Dispatch, 3 March 2015