Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Thuli Madonsela’s optimistic outlook for SA and her views on a Corruption TRC

By Chanelle Lutchman Time of article published Oct 23, 2020

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Durban - Former public protector Thuli Madonsela spoke to Chanelle Lutchman on her suggestion for a Corruption TRC, the Zondo Commission and her future plans

Chanelle Lutchman (CL): Explain your thoughts around a TRC-type amnesty for low-level officials involved in corruption?

Thuli Madonsela (TM): My suggestion has been that we should consider giving some kind of incentive for people to come and disclose that they were involved in corruption, the role they played, how the system operated and where the money went. This is so that we know how far the system is poisoned and what we need to do to clean it up because if we don’t, whatever is left will continue to grow.

We need some kind of resources to keep people aware that they can be caught if they do this. I must indicate that the request or the suggestion is being made not for the kingpins or those who were at the centre of the corrupt contact.

It will be somebody like a procurement admin officer or some finance officer or chief financial officer. The people who didn’t initiate the corruption, who didn’t get the bulk of the money but were necessary for the corruption to take place.

CL: Has it worked anywhere else?

TM: The one person who told me he used it is someone I met at Harvard (University) who, at some stage, was the mayor of Bolivia.

He said he found that when you incentivise some people, two things happen. One was that people were prepared to self-disclose, but also people found it easier to out their friends if they knew that the consequences were not going to involve them going to jail. The idea is not that there should be no consequences, or there should be no accountability. It’s you changing the nature of accountability.

They have to disclose. They have to pay for the money that they got one way or another and there has to be a stipulation that they should never be found guilty of a similar offence within a stipulated time. Should they be found guilty of a similar offence within a stipulated time, they would then have to go to jail for both the original crime and the new crime.

CL: In recent weeks, there have been several arrests of individuals accused of corruption? Do you believe we are finally turning the corner on corruption?

TM: Absolutely. We are turning the corner. I always had faith in (Shamila) Batohi (the national director of public prosecutions) because I had known her when she was the director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal. Then she went to work at the ICC (International Criminal Court) and I remember meeting her, and she was well respected.

I was then clear that she was doing a good job but people expect her to do a job overnight.

She would have botched the cases because, first, you need a team that you trust. Second, you need to make sure that the evidence that you have is incontrovertible. You can’t just hurry it up and hash it up, and then it goes to court. It’s worse if you take a half-baked case to court and use it because then this person is going to dance on the roof and say I was persecuted, not prosecuted.

CL: The government has made it mandatory for public officials to undergo a course on ethics. Will this help create a more honest public service?

TM: Absolutely, because some of them genuinely don’t know some of the basic ethical issues. For example, you have to try and not sit in a procurement process if a friend or someone you know is bidding. When it comes to managing conflicts of interest, that is a major area of concern. I do hope that the government will go beyond that. In New York, they have two things. Everyone is trained in ethics and it’s enforced vigorously. We have to change how we view ethics.

CL: What are your thoughts on the progress made by the Zondo Commission?

TM: I’m happy with the way things are going. I’m not happy with the pace but that’s what it is. The direction from my report was to finish a job already started and to deal with allegations already made.

When the commission was established, it was given an open-ended mandate which has meant that it didn’t deal with the allegations that I was investigating only.

It is dealing with any allegation that can be made by anybody. If you plough only one field, you (are) going to move faster, but if you are ploughing a million fields, you are not going to move fast. Regardless of that, I believe it is doing an amazing job.

CL: How firm should the commission be with former president Jacob Zuma?

TM: I think he should be treated like any other person. I don’t think there has to be “special” fairness for him. I was very clear when I carved the powers of the commission.

It should have the same powers that the public protector has and, of course, that includes the power to coerce a person to come and answer allegations against them, or answer on any nature that the commission wants them to answer.

CL: Do you support BEE empowerment in its current form?

TM: No. I support advancing equality on the basis of race, gender (and) disability. I don’t suggest that BEE hasn’t moved us an inch forward. It has. I’m just saying, it was about lifting a few and using them as a buffer but that’s not sustainable. We need a more holistic approach.

CL: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

TM: I see myself probably back in the legal field, hopefully as a legal practitioner in a bank.

I know people want me as president but I don’t want to be president. I do want to raise young people who are potential presidents and that’s what we are doing as the Tuma Foundation (a non-profit organisation aimed at developing our generation by helping those in need especially the youth).

We will be flooding elections 2024 with people who are trained to govern ethically and are purpose driven. We will produce a whole lot of young people who can govern properly.

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