Columns 28.8.2018 08:30 am

At inquiries, the devil’s in the detail

The Nugent Commission of Inquiry. Picture: Brenda Masilela/ANA

The Nugent Commission of Inquiry. Picture: Brenda Masilela/ANA

It might seem the camel’s back has already been broken regarding state capture, but giving up now would be like stopping cancer treatment at the first sign of remission.

There are two commissions of inquiry that are sitting concurrently that to an ordinary South African may seem a bit tedious and exhausting. The problem with these sort of bodies is they sometimes get too technical.

The very early days of the Commission of Inquiry into Governance and Administration at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) involved very technical tax revenue terms: excise duties, VAT refund, tax operating model and such. To the layman’s ears, this is a turnoff.

An ordinary person might end up switching off from any news about the tax commission and subconsciously ask why taxpayers’ money is being “wasted” on this instead of being used to develop the country.

In fact, the ordinary South African might extend that to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and demand to know why so much energy is being put into chasing after people who have in fact left the building.

But that’s exactly the sort of attitude that those who put together the state capture project want. They are counting on South Africans becoming weary of a government that’s chasing after what seems to be their own tails.

And therein lies the biggest danger to our fledgling democracy: people getting tired of ensuring that their elected representatives continue doing good.

To ensure that government works and does so efficiently is at the heart of both these commissions. The Sars commission might actually be more important to the health of our democracy than any other commission that has been constituted since 1994.

The architects of the state capture project grew more brazen with each of their victories in capturing various state-owned enterprises. When they saw what they could achieve in monetary terms from a sideshow such as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, they quickly moved on to Eskom.

But the billions at Eskom were not enough; they wanted to get to the billions that lie in the National Treasury. But National Treasury doesn’t generate those billions itself. Sars is the heart of National Treasury and the architects of state capture knew that once they captured Sars their job would be done. So the technical terms that are being bandied about at the Nugent Commission are not only necessary for the commission to do its work, they are at the heart of ensuring South Africa works every day.

Sure, Mcebisi Jonas’ fading memory of which Gupta brother did what might hog the headlines and provide much-needed ammunition to those opposed to the crucial work the commissions are doing, but the tedious detail that is being painstakingly recorded at the Sars commission will provide the hard evidence to get rid of Zuma loyalists, such as Tom Moyane, at Sars.

It’s the details about how value-added tax refunds were held back from companies to inflate the tax-collecting unit’s abilities that will define whether South Africa emerges from the Zuma years intact or not.

On the surface it might seem that the camel’s back has already been broken regarding state capture. Zuma is out of power, Moyane has been suspended, Eskom executives have resigned en masse, etc, but giving up now would be like stopping cancer treatment at the first sign of remission.

The two commissions must keep at it until there are legal ramifications for all those who cleaned out South Africa.

Sydney Majoko.

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