From awareness to orange overalls
At a panel discussion in Stellenbosch recently, veteran prosecutor Gerrie Nel had a sobering reflection on the possibility of prosecutions following the reports of corruption surfacing almost daily. It is one thing to be aware of wrongdoing, he said, but something very different to secure a conviction in a criminal court. If anybody should know, it is Nel. Being indignant and outraged is one thing, having a solid legal case is something else.
Investors who have been trying to join the class action against Steinhoff can testify to the almost impossible hoops they have to jump through just to get into the court process. Again, one can be outraged at Steinhoff, but the preparation of a successful legal claim is onerous.
So, it is a long road from being aware of wrongdoing to seeing someone in orange overalls.
How long is illustrated by events in Germany. The first raid on Steinhoff offices in that country took place in November 2015. Nearly two years later, in August 2017, the German magazine Manager Magazin reported that the German authorities were investigating employees, including CEO Markus Jooste, for possible accounting fraud. The company famously denied the report as ‘drivel’. Four months later the company’s share price was an ash heap. To this day, the Germans have not yet brought charges.
Citizens are impatient to see looters and thieves in orange overalls, but it is inherent to legal processes that it will take time.
A LOT HAPPENING
That does not mean that in the meantime nothing is happening.
We keep a rolling list of people who have lost their jobs because of public scrutiny, even without any criminal proceedings (yet). It makes for very revealing reading.
Over the last two years, since May 2017 when the first resignations took place at Eskom, literally hundreds of people have lost their jobs. Irrespective of criminal conviction, this means the loss of reputation, status and income. Those people are unlikely to be employed any day soon. No orange overalls, but certainly punishment.
Just think of a few names: Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh and Matshela Koko at Eskom; Tom Moyane and Jonas Makwakwa at SARS; Hlaudi Motsoeneng and James Aguma at the SABC; Dan Matjila at the PIC; Dudu Myeni at SAA. We have forgotten how prominent many of them were in our daily lives. They are all gone.
Eskom particularly has seen even more action. This week Eskom chief Phakamani Hadebe disclosed that 1 049 disciplinary investigations have resulted in 300 people having left the organisation. This includes 14 senior executives and managers ‘believed to be involved in state capture’. Eskom and the SIU (Special Investigating Unit) are probing thirteen companies who were paid a total of R75 billion by Eskom. Eight of the companies were involved in building Medupi and Kusile. (Hadebe stressed that not all of the R75 billion was being targeted for recovery. McKinsey has already repaid R1 billion.)
In the private sector too, people lost their jobs at KPMG, McKinsey, Bain, SAP and others. An involuntary clean-up has taken place, thanks to public exposure.
A howl of protest went up when some of the departed luminaries made it back onto the ANC election list as parliamentary candidates. Public reaction has been so intense that the party’s National Executive Committee has referred all the election lists to their integrity committee. Clearly “a vigilant jury of public opinion” is having an effect.
Once candidates are on the list with the IEC, nothing prevents them from being elected. But party and caucus pressure can. Fikile Mbalula, head of the ANC’s election campaign, reiterated that if the integrity committee decides that a candidate should step aside, they will have to do so. This matter will not be settled legally, but through party political pressure.
Significantly, Mbalula has admitted that the list issue is hurting the party. The Ace Magashule revelations, both in investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State, and by witnesses before the Zondo commission, cannot help either. As is standard procedure, Magashule has denied all the allegations. Me thinks safe to say the jury on Magashule is still out.
TAKING A LONGER VIEW