The fight against corruption will take on a new intensity thanks to the outcomes of the State Capture Commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa assured corruption-weary South Africans, during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) from the Cape Town City Hall on Thursday night.
He said the commission’s work is being backed up by “the strengthening of law enforcement agencies and the implementation of new anti-corruption practices in the public service” as he promised the nation that “those responsible for state capture will be punished for their crimes.”
The president also vowed better protection for the whistle-blowers of corruption and state capture in his almost two-hour-long Sona speech, which nevertheless had some frank and bold statements both around state capture and economic reforms.
“None of our efforts to revive our economy will succeed if we do not tackle the scourge of corruption once and for all,” he said.
“Since the beginning of the year, I have been provided with the first two parts of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture headed by Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
“While the definitive conclusion [of the State Capture Report] has yet to be delivered at the end of this month, the first two parts of the report make it plain that there was indeed state capture,” added Ramaphosa.
He conceded that “public institutions and state-owned enterprises were infiltrated by a criminal network intent on looting public money for private gain”.
“The reports have detailed the devastating effects of this criminal activity on SAA, Transnet, Denel, South African Revenue Service and the Government Communications and Information Service,” he noted.
Part three of the Zondo Report, which is expected to cover Eskom and private companies like Bosasa and EOH, is set to be handed over by the commission to government at the end of February.
“State capture had a direct and very concrete negative impact on the lives of all South Africans, but especially the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. It has weakened the ability of the state to deliver services and to meet the expectations and constitutional rights of people,” said Ramaphosa.
“We must now do everything in our power to ensure that it never happens again.”
“My responsibility is to ensure that the commission’s report is properly and carefully considered and then acted upon.”
“By no later than 30 June, I will present a plan of action in response to the commission’s recommendations,” he added.
“We will, as the commission’s first report recommends, strengthen the system to protect whistle-blowers, who are a vital safeguard in the fight against corruption and who take huge personal risk in reporting wrong-doing,” said the president.
“We are doing a detailed review of all applicable legislation and a comparative study of other jurisdictions to strengthen whistle-blower protection.”
“The relevant law enforcement agencies are taking the necessary steps to address the immediate concern about the safety of whistle-blowers,” he added.
Ramaphosa said the many individuals and companies that the commission has found were responsible for state capture must now be held to account.
“I have every confidence that the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA] will carry out the further investigations that the commission has recommended, and that it will bring the members of the criminal network that infiltrated government and captured the state swiftly to justice.”
He noted that the Investigating Directorate in the NPA is now poised to deliver on its crucial mandate, and a dedicated team has been established to pursue the state capture cases.
“We will be appointing a new head of the Investigating Directorate following the departure of Adv Hermione Cronje from that position.”
“An amendment to the State Capture Commission regulations in June 2020, empowered the sharing of information between the Commission and law enforcement agencies. This amendment also permitted the employment of the State Capture Commission personnel by law enforcement agencies,” he pointed out.
“These empowering provisions has geared the Investigating Directorate to more effectively pursue the investigations emanating from the commission.”
Private sector assistance
“We have gratefully acknowledged the offer of support from the private sector to assist in providing those skills which we lack in government to enable investigation and prosecution of crime,” he added.
“To ensure that the prosecuting authority remains true to its constitutional obligation and to ensure transparency, we are developing a framework for private sector cooperation that will be managed through National Treasury,” Ramaphosa said.
“There are also discussions underway with the Judiciary for the creation of special court rolls for state capture and corruption cases,” the president added.
“While we have taken decisive steps to end the era of state capture, we know that the fight against corruption is far from over,” he conceded, noting Covid-19-related corruption in government.
“Even as the country was suffering the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies and individuals were conspiring with public officials to defraud the government of billions of rands in Covid-related contracts,” he said.
However, Ramaphosa stressed that action has been taken.
“As soon as evidence emerged of this corruption we acted. We withdrew certain emergency procurement regulations, set up a fusion centre that brought together various law enforcement agencies, published the details of all Covid-related contracts online and instituted the most extensive investigation that the Special Investigating Unit [SIU] has undertaken since its formation,” he claimed.
“In December, the SIU submitted its final report on its investigation into Covid-related contracts. As a result, 45 matters, with a combined value of R2.1 billion, have been enrolled with the Special Tribunal.
“The SIU has referred 224 government officials for disciplinary action and referred 386 cases for possible prosecution to the NPA,” he said.