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UK bans Bain and Co as calls grow for SA government to take action

Athol Williams risked it all to expose the truth, ultimately costing him major career blows, following his 700-page affidavit and testimony at the Zondo Commission. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Athol Williams risked it all to expose the truth, ultimately costing him major career blows, following his 700-page affidavit and testimony at the Zondo Commission. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Aug 4, 2022


Cape Town - Calls are growing for the South African government to take action, as the UK banned state capture-complicit Bain and Co from tendering for government contracts for three years because of its “grave professional misconduct” in the role it played in the attempted capture of the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

This, while the company continues doing business in South Africa, as a petroleum giant also reportedly engaged in the services of the consultant pariah recently.

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The Zondo Commission’s report into state capture found that Bain’s involvement with Sars was unlawful. Zondo had recommended that all Bain’s public sector contracts be investigated, with a view to prosecution.

The Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Sars also found that Bain had conspired with former commissioner, Tom Moyane, to weaken the tax collector.

UK Cabinet Office minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “After reviewing the Zondo Commission's findings detailing Bain’s role in alleged state capture and corruption by the former government of South Africa, I consider Bain to be guilty of grave professional misconduct.

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“I have consequently acted to exclude them from competing for central government contracts for a period of three years.”

Integral to the move was Athol Williams, whistle-blower and author of the book, Deep Collusion: Bain and the capture of South Africa. Williams risked it all to expose the truth, ultimately costing him major career blows, following his 700-page affidavit and testimony at the Zondo Commission.

With the help of anti-apartheid activist and former Labour minister Lord Peter Hain, the two lobbied the British government to take action against the global management consultancy for the damage it had done in South Africa.

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Last month, Williams and Hain met with Rees-Mogg in London to discuss Bain & Co’s involvement in state capture, where Williams said he “dispelled Bain’s myth” that “they’ve disclosed all information relating to persons and facts of their involvement across our public sector and that they've made any amends”.

Williams said he welcomed the decision and now called on the South African government, particularly the National Treasury, to do the same.

“I welcome the decision by the UK government and commend Lord Peter Hain for leading a sustained and carefully crafted campaign. The UK government has acted to protect its public sector from Bain’s destructive behaviour and also acted in solidarity with the SA people.

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“When will the SA government do the same for our people?,” he asked.

“Drawing on the mountain of evidence I presented to the Zondo Commission I’ve been able to turn the misery of my exile into a productive time to support Lord Hain’s efforts in the UK Parliament,” he said.

The Institute of Social and Corporate Ethics founder said he would continue his campaign to expose activities by companies that are aimed at attacking democratic institutions and called for the protection of whistleblowers.

Lord Hain said: “I’m pleased the UK government has agreed to suspend Bain from public contracts.

“Global corporations like them have to feel the pain for the consequences of their corrupt and unlawful behaviour in South Africa’s state capture and corruption scandal under former President [Jacob] Zuma.

“Otherwise other corporates will be tempted to do the same.”

Bain said it was “disappointed and surprised” by the minister’s decision.

“We will be responding to express our concern about the process and its outcome, where recommendations from the Cabinet Office were apparently overruled, and to address inaccuracies in the Minister’s letter. If necessary, we will then consider other options for review of the decision. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the Cabinet Office to ensure that we do what is required to restore our standing with the UK government. Bain have apologised for the mistakes our South African office made in its work with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and we repaid all fees from the work, with interest, in 2018.

“Bain South Africa did not act illegally at Sars or elsewhere. No evidence to the contrary has been put forward. Neither Commission of Inquiry in South Africa has recommended any charges to be filed. We have offered our full cooperation to the relevant authorities and will continue to do so.”

The National Treasury did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Civic organisation Open Secrets said although the US-based management consulting firm paid back the money it received from its contracts with Sars, it still remained unaccountable for the havoc it wreaked at the institution, leaving South Africa’s tax collection agency a shell of its former self, at the great cost of the people of South Africa.

Open Secrets recently published investigative report, Wanted: The State Capture Conspirators, recommends that the South African government take similar action, and consider barring Bain and other companies implicated in State Capture from accessing state contracts in South Africa.

“We recommend that the National Prosecuting Authority urgently consider whether Bain, and others identified in the Zondo Commission’s final reports, should be prosecuted for their conduct in relation to Sars.”

Policy analyst Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, said international jurisdictions such as the UK are setting a good example “by prohibiting companies implicated in grave professional misconduct from tendering for government contacts”.

“Authorities must move swiftly in implementing the Zondo Commission’s recommendations. Swift action will help restore public confidence in the anti-corruption collective efforts at a time when our society appears to be overwhelmed by the unrepentant actions of criminals with political connections. The South African government’s failure so far to arrest, prosecute, and convict those involved in corruption raises an inevitable comparison to the harsh treatment by the police and the army of ordinary people found with counterfeit items sold in the informal economy,” he said.

SA1st Forum convenor, advocate Rod Solomons added that the South African government was “procrastinating”.

“The Zondo Commission made the pronouncement on Bain’s complicity. Our sense as the SA1st Forum is that our government pays lip service to the issue of fighting corruption decisively, to blacklist companies who are found guilty and to support whistleblowers,” Solomons said.

Cape Times