Columns 3.3.2014 10:45 am

Rot may just be too deep

Hendri Pelser

Hendri Pelser

So the new Budget has been tabled, and three things are certain.

Firstly, your tipple costs more; we knew this would happen.

Secondly, the fuel levy has gone up, but e-tolls are still with us. We also knew this would happen (but many of us wished for a different outcome).

Thirdly, Treasury might control the purse strings, but it cannot stop corruption and maladministration.

The Budget speech was peppered with references to better fiscal management, more value for money and spending reviews and reports.

The Treasury needs to get more bang for each tax buck it spends. This is fair enough, and it has tried to be a model for other departments. In fact, the SA Revenue Service – which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan used to head up – is probably one of the best-run government departments in the world.

The problem lies with the other government departments that spend the money. Backhanders, blatant corruption, nepotism and favouritism see our tax money handed over to politically-connected businessmen and women, tenderpreneurs and dodgy capitalists.

Gordhan told us that the Treasury will lead the way to ensure that our money is well spent, that lease agreements will be reviewed to ensure they are fair and that the business interests of government employees are going to be “analysed”.

Great stuff. But what happens then?

So I asked the minister if we would see dodgy businessmen and government employees frogmarched through the courts. I also asked him if they will be named and shamed in public and if the new chief procurement office had the teeth and resources to make a difference.

The answers were vague, politically correct and devoid of much detail.

Rumour has it Gordhan is on his way out. Nevertheless, he would probably never put his head on the block and shout out loud that corrupt individuals need to be locked up and the key thrown away.

That is because politically-connected business – in the Zuma age – is part and parcel of the endemic rot that has set in.

If your buddy rents buildings to government departments at multiples higher than the going rate, that’s okay. If your other friends have direct access to government ministers and can parade them around during “business” breakfasts, who cares, right?

If your nephew can make millions by mining in the DRC or by stripping a mine on the East Rand, then that is just how things work.

If a minister is caught with her hand in the cookie jar and still remains a member of Parliament… you get the point.

We probably do not have the faintest clue how deep the rot has set in.

Corruption is just too easy. Stopping it is almost impossible without the political will.

The accounting magicians at the Treasury can use all the black magic in the world to come up with different ways of finding the money SA needs, but they are not the ones spending it.

If a 23-year-old student can win a R7.7 million tender from a government department where her mother is a senior manager, then you have to wonder if we have already lost the war.

 

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