/ 29 October 2010

Corruption crackdown

The state plans to convict 100 corrupt people who have each stolen more than R5-million through tender fraud over the next three-and-a-half years.

This is the target President Jacob Zuma has set the government’s new anti-corruption task team (ACTT), which is being set up.

It will consist of corruption-busters from the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU).

As the government scrambles to fill the void left by the closure of the Scorpions, Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, announced this week in Parliament in his medium- term budget speech that the government is investigating fraudulent tenders amounting to R25-billion.

The formation of the ACTT comes more than a year after Collins Chabane, the minister in the presidency, formed an inter-ministerial anti-cor- ruption committee to discuss new graft-busting measures. Its main role will be to speed up the investigation and prosecution of serious corrup- tion cases.

Jabulani Sikhakhane, the spokesperson for the treasury, said that cases included in the R25-billion Gordhan referred to were “already before the courts and others are in the early stages of investigation”.

According to an SIU spokesperson, these were being overseen by the auditor general, and the SIU, NPA, Hawks, treasury and South African Revenue Service were collaborating in the investigations.

Gordhan’s speech outlined five initiatives for stepping up the fight against corruption:

  • Increasing monitoring capabilities to detect fraud at an early stage;
  • Transparent public disclosure of tender processes;
  • The centralisation of some procurement processes;
  • Heavy penalties of up to double the contract value for service providers involved in fraud, and penal- ties for public officials who assist in fraudulent tenders; and
  • Measures to prevent officials involved in fraud from remaining under suspension for long periods while under investigation.
  • The government has struggled to conclude disciplinary hearings against senior officials suspended on full pay for alleged irregularity.

    Two examples are Pam Yako, the director general of water affairs, and Patrick Gillingham, the former financial chief of correctional services, who have both been suspended for more than a year.

    The SIU says that “the concept of a double civil damages penalty is very important as a deterrent. Up to this point, claims could often only be made for the profit rather than the gross amount of the contract. Now one can claim double the gross amount. Also, making public servants liable for the losses will have a very important impact.”

    But it is unclear how the initiatives will be implemented. Sikhakhane said: “We are unsure how much detail we can talk about regarding what came out of the speech.”

    This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.