OP-ED Opinions 

News24.com | Mandy Wiener: ‘Bail out’ NPA, Hawks instead of SABC, SAA

2019-10-09 05:00

Treasury’s money would be best spent, in the eyes of the public at least, on paying for top class, competent, qualified investigators and prosecutors to go after the crooked and corrupt, writes Mandy Wiener.

A few days ago,
Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams announced that the financially
crippled state broadcaster, the SABC, will be receiving a R3.2bn bailout from
government. The first payment of R2.1bn was set to be transferred on Monday
this week, with stringent conditions having been set before the money was
released. The remaining R1.1bn would be held back until the SABC had met all
the outstanding set requirements

The SABC has not made a
profit in six years and has said that it was expecting another loss for the
last financial year. It actually needs a bailout of R6.8bn to be able to run
but it will have to do with half of that in order to avoid a blackout.

Similarly, SAA is in
desperate need of a government cash injection despite already receiving a R5.5bn
bailout from Treasury over the past financial year. It needs an addition R2bn
in working capital until December to stay afloat. It’s in even more trouble now
that it has failed to submit audited financial statements in Parliament because
of liquidity issues. Add to that a myriad of problems with labour issues and
pending strike action.

Over the past few years,
Treasury has given SAA bailouts amounting to over R20bn but Finance Minister
Tito Mboweni has said that the airline must be sold off and the state cannot
continue to bail out state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

State-owned arms company
Denel also received a R1.8bn bailout from government this year after it was
left struggling to pay salaries and suppliers. Government is considering a
further R1bn recapitalisation in its budget for the next financial year. Eskom,
which was horribly looted during the state capture project, is getting R59bn
over the next three years.

Writing in Business Day, activist Terry
Crawford-Browne criticised government for repeatedly throwing good money after
bad in this manner. “Has the
Treasury still not learnt anything from its dismal failures with the arms deal
debacle? After years of mismanagement and corruption these SOEs have all proved
to be unfixable and should be put into immediate bankruptcy instead of saddling
SA and our citizens with still more debt.”

Meanwhile
over in Silverton, National Prosecuting Authority director Shamila Batohi and
head of the Special Investigating Directorate Hermione Cronje, are trying to
tackle a decade of malfeasance, corporate corruption and state capture with a
meagre budget of less than R4bn.

The NPA is underfunded,
understaffed and overstretched, with enormous expectations from the public. It does
not have enough money to pay all of its salaries this financial year and will
have to slash staff if it is to remain within budget over the medium term.

Batohi earlier this year told Parliament that vacancy
rates were about 20% on average in the country. The percentage was even higher
at specialised units such as the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit and the
Asset Forfeiture Unit, at between 25% and 28%. This means that in actual terms
the NPA had lost about 600 prosecutors since 2015 as a result of not being able
to recruit any new prosecutors.

We are desperately waiting for the NPA to act in state
capture cases, but the resources are simply not there. There is no money to
fund them. There is little doubt this is going to have a significant impact on
service delivery and perpetuate the credibility crisis of the organisation. In
order to unravel the intricacies of a case like Steinhoff or Trillian, the NPA
would need the very best forensic expertise in the country and it’s unlikely to
attract those resources with skinny public sector salaries.

According to the NPA’s
2018/2019 financial report, it ominously warns that “The organisation has now reached a point where it will not be able
to continue to deliver on its mandate if it does not receive an increase in its
budget baseline. The lack of budget within the NPA is a very serious problem.
There has been no recruitment since 2016. The impact on the delivery of justice
and morale of prosecutors working in extremely challenging conditions, is huge.”

Almost 90% of the NPA’s
budget is spent on wages, which meant a R77m shortfall for the financial year.
This shortfall was funded through reallocation of funds within the Department
of Justice. Batohi has also said that the new investigating directorate, headed
by Cronje, would get more than R200m over the next three years but those funds
are insufficient to do the work the unit is meant to.

Speaking last week at the launch of the Health
Sector Anti-Corruption Forum, Batohi took the unprecedented step of pleading
with the president for more money to address the lack of capacity within both
the NPA and the Hawks. Batohi has instead previously resorted to “very
strong budget diplomacy” with the finance minister to address this.

Batohi explained that while
the NPA has received a budget allocation through the adjusted estimates of the national
expenditure process, the biggest challenge to investigating and prosecuting was
capacity in the NPA and Hawks.

“This will be used primarily to recruit
prosecutors in the specialised commercial crimes units and capacity in the
Asset Forfeiture Unit. However, the Hawks capacity still remains a problem. I
take this opportunity to urge the president to address this urgently.”

According to the Institute for Security Studies
(ISS), the Hawks need 2 500 more investigators as it is currently running at
less than 50% capacity. This is having a direct impact on the failure by the
state to charge politicians and criminals responsible for pillaging billions
from the state over the past years of capture.

“The Hawks’ 1700 investigators, some of whom are
helping the investigative directorate of the NPA, are working on almost 19 000
cases with over 15 000 accused on court rolls countrywide as of the end of
March,” said the ISS’s Johan Burger.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has floated the idea
of approaching private donors to fund some programmes of the NPA. This has
raised concerns about how the NPA, which is already facing a credibility
crisis, could compromise its independence. This just cannot be a viable option.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will know that the NPA is
desperate for more money to get the job done. In his State of the Nation
Address, he said, “We have asked the National
Director of Public Prosecutions to develop a plan to significantly increase the
capacity and effectiveness of the NPA, including to ensure effective asset
forfeiture.” The new Special Investigations Unit Tribunal is also expected
to bring in cash – its intention is to fast-track civil claims arising from its
investigations, which is hoped to bring in R14.7bn.

But for now, Treasury’s money would be far better
spent, in the eyes of the public at least, on paying for top class, competent,
qualified investigators and prosecutors to go after the crooked and corrupt,
than on bailing out a poorly run, inefficient SABC or SAA. Wouldn’t you rather
see the corrupt behind bars than flying on your country’s national carrier?

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