As former president Jacob Zuma sat at the Zondo commission this week, recalling the twisted tale of a 30-year conspiracy against him, many South Africans were left feeling distrustful ourselves. Surely it could only be a conspiracy against the prosperity of South Africans that we are saddled with leaders who shirk accountability in this way.
While he was head of state — whatever he says of his knowledge and participation in the matter — organs of state were ruined and state-owned enterprises were hijacked. Zuma must account for that. He must explain how we came to be left with a power utility in the shape that Eskom is in, especially when his friends made a pretty penny out of the downward spiral. He must also explain how the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has come to seriously consider private donations just to continue doing its work.
Tabling his department’s R21.1-billion budget vote this week, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Ronald Lamola said the NPA projected a shortfall of just over R121-million during the current financial year. At least R3.9-billion of the department’s budget is directed to the NPA.
Lamola underscored the importance of securing the NPA’s independence in future endeavours to secure its financial viability. He said: “Societal and public expectation is that the NPA needs to work and help us to fight the scourge of corruption, so for it to be able to function, it needs funding. If the fiscus does not have it, private donor funding must be able to help us.
“But how do we ensure that the NPA is insulated?”
We are inclined to argue that, instead of establishing rigorous mechanisms to receive donor funding for the NPA while simultaneously holding its independence sacrosanct, surely it would be more savvy to fix the South African Revenue Service (Sars). Surely it would be sensible for the body tasked with collecting revenue in service of state functions to be better equipped?
But then, can we afford to wait as long it surely will take for Sars to be revitalised in order for the NPA to do its work? Can we afford the consequences of not investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the mess at the tax agency in the first place? And would the supply of funding remain as consistent if the NPA were to prioritise corporate crimes? Or crimes committed in the name of the apartheid regime?
There are no easy answers and the debate is an uncomfortable one.
But the act of considering the possibility of donors funding prosecution is momentous in itself. To be clear, we are at such a point that we are seriously considering supplementing the funding of a vital state institution with as-yet-unknown sources of funding. There is no surer sign of a state failing its citizens.
For that, at least, Zuma should be prepared to explain how it happened.