Editorial: Crony protection violates the law

Case 1: In 2011, the Special Investigating Unit believed it had handed prosecutors an open-and-shut case on a flagrant R67-million fraud in a low-cost housing scheme in Vryburg. The evidence collected by a forensic accountant was detailed and damning. “It was one of our easiest cases ever,” an SIU source said this week.

More than three years later, no one has been charged; none of the money appears to have been recovered; and no action seems to have been taken on an SIU call for the freezing of transactions on the suspect’s property. Even more disconcertingly, the man under investigation, Khotso Frank Khasu, was recently given a senior job in the co-operative governance department, which now falls under Pravin Gordhan.

Case 2: In 2011, forensic auditors called for North West health boss Lydia Sebego to face criminal charges after finding that a government lease tender was riddled with irregularities. More than three years later, neither Sebego nor any of the other officials involved has been charged. Indeed, shortly after the report was handed to the province, Sebego applied for a transfer to Gordhan’s department, where she now serves as chief operating officer. Alerted this week, the minister promised to investigate.

Sebego is also being sued by the Land Bank over a dodgy R80-million loan.

Why does this happen in a country where there is so much poverty and so much ritual mouthing about “efficient and effective” service delivery?

The lack of urgency in the Khasu case is infuriating. This week, the Hawks said time is not a concern. Nonsense. Memories fade, witnesses go to ground, stolen money vanishes. But now, the chances of recovering a cent of the missing Vryburg millions must be virtually nil.

The vetting procedures used by the public service when it recruits clearly failed in the cases of Khasu and Sebego. A Google search would have revealed extensive media coverage of the allegations against Khasu. It should not be possible for candidates facing serious claims of misconduct to get government jobs or to sidestep the consequences by shifting from one branch of government to another.

The more sinister possibility is that Khasu, a former exile and Umkhonto weSizwe operative, is being protected by the invisible embrace of ANC solidarity. Such networks are hard to prove, and the NPA hotly denies they have a bearing on the Khasu case. But their influence on law enforcement is strongly suggested by allegations against senior ANC officials and politicians versus the very small number of trials and convictions.

Equality before the law is more than a constitutional principle; it should be a fundamental commitment in a country where, historically, the law was manipulated to favour the few and where the many are still disempowered.

It means that everyone should expect to answer for his or her actions – regardless of title, position, bank balance or relationship with the

ruling party.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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