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By William Saunderson-Meyer


The ANC’s persistent looting should infuriate us all

Considering the state of the country and the slow pace at which looters are brought to book, South Africans can no longer afford to simply take corruption in our stride.

The scale of state corruption is so vast that it has become meaningless.

President Cyril Ramaphosa estimated that state looting during the lost decade of the Jacob Zuma presidency was in the order of a trillion rand. There’s never been any explanation of how the government arrived at that estimate, but it’s a figure that trips daintily off the tongue.

And it expediently side-steps the large-scale corruption that preceded Zuma and was tacitly sanctioned by ANC.

President Thabo Mbeki’s administration turned a blind eye to the pocketing of a billion rand in the arms  procurement scandal, the start of the impunity culture within government.

It’s a statement also calculated to reassure us that under his administration, corruption has ended. When  announcing the launch of Covid-19 emergency relief funds last year, Ramaphosa was unequivocal. Every cent could
be accounted for. That’s not how it worked out.

In the state sector, Covid has been one long Christmas celebration.

In July last year, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was investigating as fraudulent R2 billion of the government’s R5.5 billion emergency Covid spending. By September last year, that had more than doubled, with R5 billion of the R10.4 billion suspected as fraudulent. This week, the SIU told parliament that R14.2 billion, out of a Treasury spend of R30.7 billion, was being investigated as fraudulent.

By those figures, the looting-to-expenditure ratio for the Ramaphosa administration has been relatively consistent.

Out of every R2 of state expenditure, around R1 – that we know of – has been stolen.

Arguably, as worrying as the scale of the criminality is the level of impudence. These are not people who fear the police and the courts.

Despite Honest Cyril’s shock and horror over Covid corruption, no one has yet been jailed or even prosecuted.

Take Ramaphosa’s presidential spokeswoman, Khusela Diko. Her hubby scored a corrupt R125 million Covid  contract. After first being put on “special leave” for six months, she was suspended but is reportedly still earning a R1.3m salary and benefits. And she still serves in the ANC.

The SIU emphasis has not been on gaining convictions but rather to recover funds. It told parliament that its special tribunal is busy with 15 PPE cases that should recoup R365 million.

Admittedly, there are also good, pragmatic reasons for the SIU approach. The seizure of ill-gotten gains is  considerably easier and faster than the costly process of building a multitude of watertight criminal cases against relatively small-time offenders.

However, the problem with the SIU approach is that it makes state looting a gamble still worth taking: there is virtually no chance of criminal sanctions and a minuscule chance of forfeiture.

If one examines the hundreds of pages of Covid expenditure details released by Treasury last year, in response to opposition and civil society pressure, what strikes one is how amateurish and blatant the thieving is.

The Ramaphosa administration has made much show of addressing the theft of Covid emergency funds.

It’s been an abject failure but we can’t allow ourselves to just take it in our stride.

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