E-tolling fight is fight for freedom

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st gant INL SA IN WAITING: The Sanral tollgate price board on the N1 and the gantries are ready for what the author says is just another one of the many state swindles against citizens. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

When ANC intelligence operatives led by the late Bheki Jacobs blew the whistle about the arms deal scandal back in 1999, they told me that the arms deal was just “the tip of the corruption iceberg”.

The common denominator, they said, between oil deals, taxi recapitalisation, driver’s licences, Coega, Cell C, diamond and drugs smuggling, weapons trafficking, money laundering and tollroad contracts was a 10 percent kickback to the ANC in return for political protection.

That is why it is imperative that all South Africans must support the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance’s legal challenge to the Gauteng e-tolling system. Nothing less is at stake than the very survival of our constitutional democracy.

The ANC refuses to open its books to public scrutiny, spuriously claiming that it is a private entity.

Given that the ANC has been perennially insolvent, former ANC treasurer Mendi Msimang surprised everyone back in 2007 at the Polokwane conference by revealing assets of R1.75 billion.

That made the ANC, even then, one of the richest political parties in the world, and ANC leadership has since become even more shameless in pursuit of wealth.

The arms deal scandal erupted back in September 1999. It continues to this day despite massive attempts of cover-up by president Thabo Mbeki and his colleagues. Yet subsequent deals, including massive investments in electricity generation, now make the arms deal scandal seem like mere “petty cash”. Every time we South Africans switch on our lights, we are also contributing to ANC party funds.

The e-tolling scandal which finally erupted in May 2012 has highlighted public anger that the government regards the citizenry as a collective pie to fund the ANC. In reality corruption around tollroads was evident very soon after 1994.

Schabir Shaik’s companies, the Nkobi Group, had their fingers not only in the arms deal and in arranging bribes for Jacob Zuma from the French Thales Group. They also received up to R10bn’s worth of government contracts. These included the upgrading of what was the N3 freeway from Durban to Johannesburg into a tollroad and the bar-coded credit card driver’s licences.

In 1996 the transport department, then headed by Mac Maharaj, awarded a R650 million driver’s licence contract to the Prodiba consortium, which derives a R40 payment from every licence renewal. The consortium consisted of various companies in the Shaik empire:

l Idmatics, a subsidiary of the French defence group Thales, became a central character in the arms deal saga.

l KobiTech, part of Shaik’s Nkobi Holdings. At that time Shaik was a local director of Thales. In 2005 Shaik was found guilty of corruption, including having solicited a bribe from Thales. Subsequently, KobiTech was expelled from the consortium in 2007, but Thales remained a member.

l Nkobi Holdings had been named after the late treasurer of the ANC, Thomas Nkobi. It included at least one subsidiary, Floryn Investments, the purpose of which was simply to channel “donations” to the ANC.

As Bheki Jacobs appreciated, much more serious than even the arms deal and related scams was the complicity of the Reserve Bank and Treasury in money laundering operations.

These have allegedly cost South Africa hundreds of billions of rand, but have not yet been investigated.

Much of the money laundering, Jacobs told me, was routed via the Public Investment Commission (PIC), which manages government pension funds. The PIC is now South Africa’s largest financial institution, with more than a trillion rand under administration. It is wholly owned by the state, and ex officio the minister of finance is the state’s representative.

Alas, having died in September 2008 in suspicious circumstances at the age of 46, Jacobs can no longer assist in unravelling these allegations.

I have, however, requested the Seriti judicial commission of inquiry to recommend investigations into whether the multiple cancers that killed Jacobs were deliberately induced and if his death, therefore, was murder.

When the e-tolling saga went to court, it emerged that the PIC holds roughly 50 percent of the bonds issued by the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral).

The stakes involved are enormous. Should the e-tolling project fail, the taxpayers will not only have to bail out Sanral but also pay about R8bn towards civil servants’ pension funds.

That the proposed Gauteng e-tolling system is extortionately expensive and fraudulent is no longer contested even by the current Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan. His intervention in the case in May 2012 was unprecedented, but also prompted questions about his cause for panic.

It made a mockery of the Public Finance Management Act as well as section 217 (1) of the Constitution that government contracts must be conducted in accordance with a system that is “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”. What skeletons did Gordhan inherit with e-tolling, Sanral and the PIC?

The downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating by three international credit agencies reflects growing concerns of future economic and financial meltdown, compounded obviously by the government’s inept handling of social unrest throughout the country.

The ruling in December 2012 against the e-tolling alliance by Acting Judge Louis Vorster aggravates these issues.

In short, according to Vorster, taxpayers and citizens have no recourse when executive decisions are reckless, flawed, irrational or illegal.

That surely will never stand up in the Constitutional Court? In the timeless words of British jurist Lord Denning: “Fraud unravels everything.”


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