South Africans should stop thinking of corruption as a politically endemic problem. Doing so exonerates the corporate sector, which has created a conducive environment for kickbacks without ever being called to account.
This is the view of Magda Wierzycka, the founder and CEO of asset management company Sygnia. Wierzycka is adamant if there were no willing conspirators within private companies, particularly multinational corporations, corruption would not have degenerated to staggering levels the country is currently confronted with.
Wierzycka denies she is a brave captain of industry in a sea of profit-chasing corporations willing to overlook financial wrongdoing within their own companies and malfeasance in the public sector. But her actions since it came to light that taxpayers paid for the Gupta wedding at Sun city with the collusion of KPMG very much say otherwise.
Wierzycka took what she described as a “difficult”, but “doable”, act of firing KPMG as her company’s auditors. During a telephonic conversation with the Polish-born businesswoman, one of the richest women in the country, it quickly becomes evident KPMG was not going to remain in Sygnia’s books.
“For every rigged tender, there is someone placed in a private company willing to accept a bribe. In many instances in this country these happen to be multinationals. It’s almost like they think they are invading a colony where they are free to disregard anti-corruption laws. I personally find this very offensive. It is all too common a problem,” she said.
“KPMG must admit it made blood money from this country. At a second meeting after we removed them as auditors, I asked them to withdraw the Sars rogue unit report in full. Alternatively, I spoke to them about doing a new report. Failing which I asked them to issue executive summary of people they didn’t interview such as Pravin Gordhan.
“I also asked them to donate the R60 million to organisations fighting against corruption. They said they would want to start a bursary fund. Well, a bursary fund is not only tax deductible, but they should have had that as one of their corporate social responsibilty [CSI].
“When it became clear they were not listening, I said to them good luck, and left,” Wierzycka said, battling to finish her sentence without laughing.
The next company she set her sights on was Sage. The software company’s business ethics happened on Wierzycka’s radar by coincidence. They had employed Bianca Goodson, previously an employee of Gupta-linked Trillian.
Wierzycka has told Talk Radio 702 that Goodson had told her new employers, Sage, that, should information come out that she released the trove of emails about Trillian to the media and pose a reputational threat, she would be happy being released from her contract.
This is exactly the trap Sage fell into. The company released Goodson from her contract in a series of emails, whose main thrust was: “You asked us to release you if we regard you as a reputational liability.” This seems to have irritated Weirzycka.
“Their behaviour was shocking from a moral, ethical and legal perspective. Goodson should have been celebrated instead of being fired. My decision to hire her is independent from her status as a whistleblower. She has an impeccable CV, and has experience. I believe she will be an asset to the company.”
“Whistleblowers are loyal South Africans”
Goodson said whistleblowers were the real heroes in the current climate, describing them as “loyal South Africans”.
The actuarial scientist is convinced the quickest way to protect them is for media to boost their profile with publicity, as being kept a secret increases the risk of being targeted. To legally protect them, she says the whistleblowing legislation must be tightened.
The PhDip actuarial graduate has very harsh words for captains of the industry who have conveniently maintained silence in the face of unethical leadership, declining economy and mounting evidence of maladministration.
“There are very many of them who are aware of what is happening. They choose complacency and ignorance. Some of them decide to hide behind umbrella bodies such a Business Leadership South Africa [BLSA] and others. Now is not the time to keep quiet, as we need to move away from the Guptas and corruption and start working towards a thriving economy.
“A lot is going wrong. The BEE legislation creates BEE oligarchs because of its structure. Companies handpick few black individuals instead of looking for real wealth-distribution models. We should by now have created a pool of black graduates who will move into positions and acquire stakes in different companies,” she told The Citizen.
And, if she doesn’t regard herself a brave business leader, what would she like to be remembered as? “I am just a business leader who believe those in the sector should speak out. I have a real desire to see change,” she concluded.