Opinion / 17 October 2017, 3:30pm / Douglas Gibson
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said in an interview with a Sunday newspaper on March 26: “We must deal with the perception that we are all corrupt The longer we delay the more we face the challenge.”
The “we” she referred to was, of course, members of the ANC cabinet. And she was calling for action on the ANC's decision last year’s to institute lifestyle audits for politicians and officials.
On October 4 last year, The Star carried a report by Baldwin Ndaba: “The NEC (national executive committee) has called for the introduction of ad hoc lifestyle audits for political leaders and public servants. The NEC has also directed that all allegations of corruption must be responded to and clarified as soon as they arise.”
The report continued, “Faced with a disenchanted electorate and damaging criticism for its lacklustre attitude towards corruption in its own ranks, the ANC wants to conduct lifestyle audits on all its senior leaders accused of irregularities.
“ANC members deployed in senior positions in the government and state-owned entities, including the troubled SAA and SABC, are expected to be subjected to the same scrutiny. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced the measures on Monday, following the governing party’s national executive committee meeting at the weekend.
‘“Self-serving and careerist politicians must be discouraged from our ranks and those who use the ANC for selfish gain acted against.’”
No action has followed the NEC's decision. The ANC has said nothing in response to Pandor’s call. The public could be forgiven for asking the obvious: Why not?
This brings us to the allegations surrounding Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. Eyewitness News (EWN) alleged that the minister and his family went on holiday to Dubai for a week after Christmas last year. The holiday cost R680000. The minister, a one-time ANC Youth League leader, is known for liking the high life. Regarded by some as vulgar beyond words, a holiday costing around R100000 a day would still be the minister’s private business, until, that is, hard allegations surface about the source of the funds.
EWN alleges that at least half the money was paid by a company that does significant business with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee. Mbalula was the sports minister before he was promoted to the police portfolio earlier this year.
It was alleged that Sedgars, the company concerned, used another company it controls, Reimon Uniforms to pay R300000 to a travel agent for Mbalula’s Dubai trip. Two independent sources confirmed that Sedgars paid for at least half the trip. Two payments were made from a bank account linked to Reimon Uniforms on February 28 - the first of R200000 and then a further R100000 - to Johannesburg travel agency, Munlin Travel. Reimon Uniforms appears to be an inactive company whose bank account accepts and channels funds from Sedgars-linked accounts to other parties. It is unclear how or when the remaining balance on the trip was settled, however, it’s believed it may have been paid in cash.”
When allegations as specific as these are made in the media, it is unconscionable for the minister and his spokesperson to simply pooh-pooh the story, make jokes about it or hide behind the fig leaf of “the matter is private”.
If they are true, the minister is guilty of serious abuse of public office by accepting a huge gift from someone dealing within his area of responsibility in what can be described at best as a sweetener and at worst a bribe. If the allegations are untrue, the minister, Sedgars and Reimon have been defamed, their reputations have been damaged and they all seem to me to have a large damage claim against EWN.
Given the fact that a new scandal is revealed almost every day, some will be hoping that the Dubai holiday allegations will just get lost in the welter of dismal news about government corruption.
It is unacceptable, however, that President Jacob Zuma has taken no action concerning serious misconduct allegations against a member of his cabinet. He should at least ask Mbalula for an explanation about where the money came from for the trip and enquire how it is that the media state that money came from Sedgars and Reimon. If the president is satisfied with the explanations, he should instruct the minister to make the proof available at a media conference. If the president is not satisfied, he should fire the minister.
It is precisely here that a lifestyle audit would be appropriate. Ministers earn R2.3 million a year. The tax on that amounts to around R893000, leaving the minister with about R1.5m to spend. Was he able to take nearly half that for a seven-day family holiday? Or did his wife pay for it? Perhaps she did, but then we need to know that. She is reportedly under investigation by the Hawks about a billion rand housing project in the Free State.
Pandor talked about her colleagues living beyond their means, some in 13-bedroom homes in fancy areas, while others had only three bedrooms. She wondered how they did it and wondered too whether they were receiving money “that is not above board”.
Let’s find out the truth and institute lifestyle audits for those who are there to serve us, the public, before serving themselves.
* Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.