Treasury ‘still aiding those who benefitted during apartheid’, Mkhwebane says

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Jacques Nelles

The public protector says the country’s leaders should be decisive on dealing with corruption across colour lines and across social standings, but urged young people not to take news reports on corruption at face value.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has urged young people to probe national Treasury spend, as they could find that it is still benefiting companies or people who benefited during apartheid, and is not fulfilling its mandate to economically empower “our people”.

On Monday Mkhwebane was part of a virtual debate on the topic of whether corruption should be considered a crime against humanity, hosted by the United Nations Association of South Africa (Unasa).

The president of the African Transformation Movement (ATM) Vuyo Zungula also took part in the debate.

Mkhwebane said corruption steals from the poor and that acts of corruption are definitely to the detriment of the population.

She said acts of corruption are committed by officials in the public and private sectors.

The public protector does not have jurisdiction over private companies, Mkhwebane said, highlighting that even her investigation into an apartheid-era deal between the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and Absa bank did not probe the latter, but the roles of national Treasury, the SARB and State Security Agency, and how they dealt with the alleged illegal loan.

The constitutional court has ruled that Mkhwebane was not honest in her investigation into the deal and that she acted in bad faith, that she fell “egregiously short of what is required” of her office, and that her report on the matter was flawed.

Mkhwebane said it was important to question whether the country’s constitution is assisting with uprooting corruption and crime and how effective were the police, Hawks and the national prosecuting authority in dealing with corruption.

“They are the ones who need to move with speed to deal with those perpetrators,” Mkhwebane said.

She suggested that the state capture commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo should be evidence-based, to avoid prejudicing people based on allegations leveled against them in testimony.

Zungula says he supports the calls for insourcing and capacitating government instead of relying on the tender system for the delivery of services, as this would minimize corruption.

He suggested that the country’s laws need to be relooked because some were drawn up before democracy and so were outdated, and that it was important to create new laws dealing with issues that have emerged during the years of democracy.

Mkhwebane urged young people to look at and conduct research on Treasury’s and parliament’s spending, adding that they could find that the former’s spend on procurement does not empower “our people” economically.

She was of the view that insourcing alone may not be the solution because young people should be encouraged to go the entrepreneurial route, with businesses relying on the state with deals done within the prescripts of the law.

Mkhwebane said it was also important to question whether the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) – which some had said had been copied and pasted from Australian laws – was assisting in dealing with corruption.

The public protector said there had been calls for the preferential procurement regulations to be repealed as they perpetuated inequality, adding that many black-owned companies do not have the financial muscle to quote lower prices like their white-owned counterparts, and so stand a lesser chance of being awarded tenders.

Mkhwebane said the tender system in the country needs to be reexamined but not ended, as doing so would destroy businesses that can create employment opportunities.

Zungula and Mkhwebane were in agreement that it was important for young people not to take at face value media reports, in particular, those on allegations of corruption leveled against people.

Mkhwebane said her office was investigating allegations of corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as allegations of corruption not only on the payment of the R350 social grants meant as relief for the unemployed in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the systems being used to pay grants “and how there are various gaps in those systems”.

The public protector said ethical leaders who respect the constitution are accountable and transparent where needed, and that those against whom the public protector and other constitutional institutions have made findings, or are dealing with court issues, should not remain in their positions.

The public protector and the South African Human Rights Commission offer their services for free to ensure justice is done, Mkhwebane said.

“Be decisive in dealing with corruption across colour lines and across social standings,” Mkhwebane suggested, adding that there should be consistency on how to deal with corruption across the board.

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