Bite the hand that corrupts, for SA’s sake

The assassination of Wandile Bozwana last month has triggered much fevered speculation about the possible motive for his brutal killing.

Besides his own controversial business deals, which sometimes compromised government procurement processes, it is believed Bozwana was killed because he was fiercely opposed to how government tenders are allocated in the North West.

Speculation surrounding his death and the configuration of elements behind it – politicians, business people, political donations, government business tenders and the possible existence of groups with mafia “tendencies” – should leave all South Africans concerned about the relationship between government and business people.

But trying to establish a connection between these different groups is like attempting to put together a difficult and complicated jigsaw puzzle.

The executive members of provincial and local government (premiers, MECs, mayors and their executives) seem to be at the centre of the combination of all the evils that occur when money and politics get together.

The executives legally responsible for allocating and distributing large sums of money that should be used to supply government departments with the goods and services they need must be financially honest and beyond reproach.

But in most cases, the tender system is notorious for being abused to allocate large amounts of money to sometimes shadowy business people, who either fail to deliver or deliver substandard services and/or goods.

The tender system makes it possible for large amounts of money to exchange hands when the beneficiaries use complex financial transactions that often involve many different companies being used as special purpose vehicles.

Such transactions, no matter how questionable they may be, are normally legally above board.

The principle of ikhotha ye ikhothayo (you grease the hand that gives you money) applies, in which business people who benefit then pay back some of the money to the politicians.

These transactions are also conducted through a web of companies and financial instruments that make it possible for money to move from company to company without flouting money-laundering laws.

By conducting a series of these transactions that benefit those in the inner circle of the politicians and their business associates, ANC-aligned financial empires similar to Chancellor House are formed, and monies then flow to the ANC to fight elections or to line the pockets of powerful politicians.

Politicians who hold executive positions do not only use the tender system to allocate money to selected business people associated with the ANC. There also seems to be some questionable provision in the law that enables government executives to transfer assets worth millions to business people connected to the ruling party without going through the public tender system.

Recently, ANC-connected business people scored R100-million worth of game for free from the North West government. Prize animals from state game reserves that were donated to these individuals include 50 rhino and 50 prime breeding-stock sable antelope. The deal, which was never advertised or put out to tender, is now complete.

In a move that was clearly aimed at absolving the responsible MEC, Manketse Tlhape, for accountability, ANC MPLs used their majority in the legislature to modify the sections of a portfolio committee report that refers to ANC-connected business people being given state-owned game and wildlife. The move was aimed at concealing the facts behind the questionable multimillion-rand transaction aimed at enriching those who are connected with the high and mighty in the ANC in the province.

In October, there were reports of the mismanagement of millions of rands of ratepayers’ money in the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati district municipality in Vryburg.

The auditor general found that there were no proper financial systems in place at the municipality and, therefore, fraud and other financial misconduct were likely to take place.

It was reported that the council intended to write off millions of rands worth of debts owed by ANC-connected business people who could not deliver on construction projects they had “won” tenders for.

The auditor general lamented the absence of consequences for those who have abused or stolen public funds. In simple terms, he urged executives to take strong action against those who plunder the public purse and, in effect, asked political executives to bite the hands that so generously feed them.

These corrupt business dealings do not always work out as simply as I have explained.

Human beings are fickle, especially when large amounts of money are involved. Accusations of dishonesty, cheating and back-stabbing emerge, and relationships that are only sustained by money eventually collapse once close friends become sworn enemies.

The challenge for the North West government is not to adopt a reactionary approach to the accusations of the mismanagement of government funds, as it often does, but to strengthen the legal frameworks to ensure that those who conduct business with the government do so in a lawful and fair manner, and that the opportunities to secure business from the government are open to all, irrespective of their political affiliations.

By doing so, those who are afforded a temporary opportunity to lead – and no one is called to lead forever – will put South Africa, and not the ANC, first.

Dr Tutu Faleni is a Democratic Alliance MPL for the North West

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