A friend — very cynically — quipped that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe must have encouraged the leaks about the dodgy tender awarded to a company in which his family is involved.
He saw it as the perfect chance to bolster his presidential credentials in a country where criminals, fraudsters and the corrupt have easy access to power and opportunity, rather than the qualified and competent.
Cynicism aside, the reports of inappropriate benefit by Mantashe’s relatives from a government tender must be viewed in a very serious light.
As this newspaper has revealed, a company comprising family members of high ranking ANC cadres — Jacob Zuma, Lindiwe Zulu and Mantashe — was awarded a R631-million tender by the Amathole District Municipality to build 66 000 toilets for rural villages.
Apart from the failure to follow procurement procedures – the company was apparently imposed on the municipality — little noticeable progress has been made in constructing the toilets. This is despite payments to the tune of R60-million being made.
Two disturbing elements in this story are:
The implication that those with intimate familial ties to senior political leaders can circumvent procurement rules and secure state tenders.
Even if they were to meet procurement requirements, 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 a close relative. The Public Administration Management Act 2014 (No. 11) defines these as: “a parent, sister, brother, child or spouse”.
This is a red flag given to their indirect proximity to power.
Secondly, poor communities are still without promised sanitation services. If evidence for the lack of commitment by the ANC leadership to improve the quality of the lives of the poor was needed, this dodgy toilet tender is glaring proof.
Incidences of corruption involving ANC members abound. President Jacob Zuma himself set the stage on which this tragic drama is being played out through various scenes.
He fought off corruption allegations by ensuring his alleged graft can never be scrutinised by a court of law. He has thus modelled the way for other party cadres. And now, if you are corrupt, your prospects for rising to high office look brighter.
Worryingly, the Eastern Cape, one of the poorest provinces, could soon become the corruption capital of South Africa — if it is not already. The province has already suffered much fraud, corruption, nepotism and maladministration at great cost to the poor.
Examples include 42 corruption cases in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro totalling R71-million between 2011 and 2013; and nepotism, corruption and fraud in the provincial health department reportedly amounting to R1.4-billion.
What is heart-wrenching about the rise of corruption in the Eastern Cape is that it’s backdrop includes the nation’s highest levels of unemployment — above 30%. Service delivery is also horrendously compromised. For example, the use of the bucket system in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro increased from 22 500 in 2011 to 30 200 in 2013, under the ANC government.
Clearly the province, the birthplace of ANC luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Govan Mbeki, is being reduced to an ash heap of poverty and a monument of corruption.
ANC cadres have a way of rationalising corruption. They argue 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.
But it is as if the ANC is measuring itself by the standard of the apartheid system. And comparisons with the corporate sector betray 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. But the reality is that corruption has acquired a systemic character. The worms coming out at the top echelons of ANC leadership show it is no longer just a case of a few rotten apples, but the entire orchard being accursed.
It is therefore, unsurprising that since 2010 South Africa has fared very badly in the measurements of global perceptions of corruption. In 2010 the country was ranked 54 out of 178 countries (with one as excellent and 178 dismal). The following year South Africa fell 10 steps to 64. It currently sits at 71 and corruption is often identified by investors as a major deterrent to doing business in South Africa.
There is social and material cost. Corruption destroys public values and tears asunder a shared commitment to nurture and protect public institutions. Clean government maximises the quality of life of the ordinary people. Corruption however, violates their dignity. It depletes resources for delivering services to the poor. If it delays projects from coming on stream or from ever being realised, employment opportunities are limited.
Countries such as China that have for decades battled corruption, now realise it could be the single most important trigger for political instability.
In his book, The Governance of China, the Chinese president Xin Jinping points out “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 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 okay to take short cuts, to pay kickbacks and to steal public money.
Two years ago then Minister of Public Service and Administration, Lindiwe Sisulu, introduced a raft of policy measures intended to prevent 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 among 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 were not targeted at the political leadership, especially of the governing party, these would be ineffectual. You cannot outlaw civil servants from doing business with the state, but leave politicians off the hook, and hope to achieve great results.
The real crooks are among the politicians. Public servants learn from them.
If Mantashe argues that it is acceptable for his family members to do business with the state, what will stop civil servants in municipalities and national government from implementing his logic?
Mantashe occupies the supreme layer in our political hierarchy and has indirect influence over the state bureaucracy. He should model the way and set the bar high by insulating his family interests against state procurement opportunities.
Sadly, in the perverse political culture that defines the ANC of today, it may just be that the shadowy power-brokers and factions will now see Mantashe as an ideal candidate to lead the party in future. If he is compromised they will be free to continue looting the state under his watch. Corruption is a serious issue. It is theft and anti-developmental. We should not tread lightly around it. Sooner or later it will wreak irreversible moral and economic damage to the country and its institutions.
Qobo is a political economist
This article originally appeared in the Daily Dispatch